Secure remote access: Definition and overview

| By:
Katarina Palacios

In today’s distributed and hybrid workforce environment, employees often work remotely and distribute corporate and confidential resources to teammates, collaborators, and third-party vendors. 

Legacy security systems are incapable of meeting the new requirements of the modern corporate environment, and this new frontier of hybrid and remote workforces has created a new challenge for IT teams. 

Developing secure remote access is the most effective and secure option to ensure your team has access to all the materials they need to accomplish tasks while preventing confidential data from falling into the wrong hands.      

What is secure remote access?

Secure remote access enables workers and third-party vendors to do their jobs—whether in a shared office environment or not. 

Secure remote access solutions typically include a company-specific blend of security protocols and solutions, all designed to facilitate easy access to the tools and platforms employees need—while keeping an organization’s sensitive data secure and protected.

Although every company elects for a different combination of security measures depending on their organization’s unique needs, most include a mix of remote support software, 

virtual private networks (VPN), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and endpoint protection. 

How does secure remote access protect devices?

Secure remote access protects an organization’s collection of devices by implementing preventative protocols and processes. Building a secure remote access solution sets organizations up for long-term growth and success, protecting the company, employees, and customers. 

Secure remote access protects devices in a few ways: 

  • Enhanced web security. An increase in cloud-based technology and software has led most organizations to rely on web-based applications as part of their IT environments. With a secure remote access protocol, companies can keep users safe from web-based threats. 
  • Safer login and authentication. Some of the most effective security measures start with securing the workforce. By requiring employees to rely on MFA and complex passwords, organizations can strengthen a common vulnerability and weak point that plagues many companies’ cybersecurity measures. 
  • Secure endpoint protection. Endpoint devices—such as laptops and tablets, internet-of-things (IoT) devices, or other wireless items—can be vulnerable to threats. In the early 2010s, endpoint security was often as simple as antivirus software. Today, endpoint protection often combines a potent mix of solutions: antivirus software, attack prevention, threat detection, response technology, or data leak protection (DLP). This includes a focus on remote secure access for IoT devices. 
  • Safe remote desktop access. Remote teams require remote tech support and computer access. Remote access management software like ConnectWise Control Access can deliver immediate, secure remote support to all endpoints. This ensures challenges are resolved quickly and customers experience less downtime. 

The tools that power secure remote access

Because remote access takes on different shapes for different industries and organization types, the best solution is to leverage a collection of technologies in tandem. 

Remote desktop and remote access software

Remote desktop 

With a distributed or hybrid workforce, many employees working outside the office struggle to access crucial applications or other technologies to accomplish their jobs. 

One of the most secure remote access solutions is leveraging remote desktop software. By implementing this software, users can connect to and access a desktop computer remotely. They can easily gain access to files, perform necessary functions, and run applications—all through a secure, encrypted network.

Whether your organization is seeking to provide a better customer experience or to simply support remote employees, remote desktop software is a highly efficient solution. In addition to its relative ease of use, remote desktop requires a straightforward setup process. It’s also easily scalable—so if the size of your company, or your remote employee base, is on the rise, remote desktop is your most effective option. 

Remote access software 

While remote desktop connects users remotely to one single computer, remote access software provides an expanded option. With this type of software, users connect to a network from a remote location—and can then access any resource on the network. 

Many organizations choose to pair remote desktop with remote access software—a secure way to empower organizations with remote support in any setting. With remote access software, IT support teams can access any workstation or mobile device remotely, resulting in quick resolution and fewer disruptions to daily operations. 

With ConnectWise Control Access, organizations gain a secure and reliable way to access remote systems—and technicians can quickly access machines and provide troubleshooting. 

Virtual private network (VPN)

A secure remote access VPN is a private, encrypted connection established from one device to a larger network. By creating a singular “tunnel” between an organization’s network and a remote user, the user’s IP address is hidden, internet providers will not be able to track data, and sensitive information will be transferred securely. 

While VPNs can be useful, they do have some flaws like slower speeds vs. direct connections and potentially being harder to troubleshoot in the event of an issue. As a result, a VPN is best used as a complement to remote access, not a replacement.

Endpoint security

Although endpoint security was traditionally limited to standard antivirus software, today’s endpoint security is far more nuanced and offers a plethora of features, including the ability to seamlessly detect, analyze, and contain cyberattacks. 

At its core, endpoint detection and response (EDR) simplifies an IT department’s role with individual endpoint devices. The technology can prevent malware apps from being installed on personal devices, remove malware from computing systems, and provide live snapshots of the overall network health. 

Zero-trust network access (ZTNA)

Zero-trust network access (ZTNA) is an innovative mindset that helps organizations protect their data. At its core, ZTNA functions on the principle that everyone—regardless of their role—must be authenticated and authorized in order to access certain systems.

ZTNA works by giving users the least amount of access they need to accomplish a task. Authentication and authorization processes are enforced at every entry point, ensuring that only the right people have access. 

When allowing access to confidential data or sensitive documents, less is always more. By limiting the overall number of users with access to certain information, your organization’s overall security will be strengthened. And as more and more workforces become distributed, the zero-trust architecture is a robust and effective approach that makes it much more challenging for bad actors to gain access. 

Single sign-on (SSO)

Single sign-on (SSO) enables users to use one set of credentials to access a suite of products and services. From a security perspective, SSO reduces the number of “attack surfaces” for hackers to target. When users log in once per day—with just one set of credentials—overall enterprise security is strengthened.  

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Enable multi-factor or two-factor authentication (2FA) for an organization and boost overall security measures. 2FA requires users to input a password and an authentication token generated from a device or smartphone application, such as Google Authenticator or Duo. This delivers a second layer of security to lower the risk of cyberattacks.  

Best practices for ensuring secure remote access

Most small- to mid-sized businesses are likely leveraging remote access policies and management. Regardless of whether you’re looking to streamline your organization’s remote access protocol or build a new policy to bolster security and efficiency, here is a list of best practices for ensuring secure remote access: 

  • Prepare for threats. Whether you’re strengthening remote access security protocols or re-envisioning what’s possible, preparing and accepting the potential for future threats is vital. While it can be tempting to ignore potential risks after your organization has implemented a full remote access system, staying prepared is optimal. Whether your organization is hybrid or fully remote, vulnerabilities will exist—both in the overall infrastructure and in the specific applications leveraged. 
  • Use encryption. While relying on data encryption is a best practice, it’s far more critical for remote workforces. Devices can easily be lost or stolen, leaving sensitive or confidential information vulnerable. To ensure data encryption daily, require employees to connect to remote systems by leveraging a VPN. Additionally, organizations can enable full-disk encryption for laptops and mobile devices, which ensures that, if lost or stolen, any data will be protected. 
  • Prioritize user authentication. With remote workforces, sharing universal access to files and folders might seem like a simpler option—however, user authentication is vital in keeping data secure. Access for all users should be blocked by default and enabled only for the specific users who need it.   
  • Create a policy for third-party vendors. Remote-access scenarios are highly common for collaborating with third-party vendors and consultants—and yet most companies neglect to develop strict security policies for these partnerships. Create a universal policy with instructions on navigating remote access to sensitive information and data when partnering with vendors. 
  • Stay up to date. Software updates are released very frequently, making it challenging to keep up from time to time. However, these updates are critical to improving the functionality and addressing any security vulnerabilities. Create an enterprise-wide policy requiring team members to update software when available. 
  • Educate employees. One of the obvious best practices for security and remote access is educating employees on cybersecurity. Training should focus on emerging trends in cyber threats and phishing attacks. In addition to training on company policies and secure remote access solutions, provide recommendations on developing strong passwords. Leveraging a password manager strengthens an organization’s overall cybersecurity.   
  • Schedule regular security audits. Develop a plan with your IT department to schedule regular security audits, helping you identify, evaluate, and assess any potential risks. During a scheduled remote access security audit, focus on the following: 
    • Logins and login processes 
    • User activity on any cloud-based solutions 
    • VPN logins and overall company usage 
    • Audit of configurations to benchmark against in the future 

Building a secure remote access policy

With a wide range of mobile devices and connection opportunities, IT departments must develop a unified secure remote access policy. Because each device comes with its own set of security challenges and limitations, the right policy will offer specific details to ensure security. 

  • Home computing assets: In the past few years, the prevalence of employees using their mobile devices at work has become commonplace, and this trend brings new security concerns. Determine what acceptable use policies entail for an employee’s home or hybrid work environment. One potential solution is mobile device management software used by an IT department to monitor, manage, and secure devices. 
  • Hardware and software configuration rules and requirements: From anti-malware to antivirus, identify the most effective endpoint protection strategies for your organization. 
  • Updated operating system: Create policies that outline expectations and demands for regular operating system updates. This is especially important if an organization’s employees use their personal devices at work.
  • Connection method: Identify and articulate expectations for a connection method. Will the user’s device be connected to a VPN? Will you require employees to change any pre-set router password or default names if they work from home? Using a router with WPA2 or WPA3 encryption is the safest method for an at-home connection. When an employee works outside their home, VPNs are encouraged: public Wi-Fi does not provide enough security and reliability. 
  • Sensitive and/or confidential information: Determine if employees are allowed to store personal information on the device and how to best protect this information. One popular method of protection is full disk encryption, a technology that protects data on devices if lost or stolen. Full disk encryption works by converting information into code, making it a challenge for unauthorized individuals to gain access without a password. 
  • Remote access management. For companies leveraging a secure remote access policy, it is helpful to integrate remote access management software as well. This provides technicians with seamless access to endpoints—like computers, tablets, or IoT devices—so issues are resolved quickly and without disruption. 

If you are interested in developing a remote access policy or leveraging remote desktop control, our experts are ready to help build a custom tech stack to meet your unique needs. Learn more about ConnectWise Control Access or start your free trial today