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The Challenges of Hybrid Workspaces

The COVID- 19 pandemic has accelerated the transformation of the workplace into a hybrid of remote work and traditional office. This article tries to shed some light on this modern reality, along with examining security challenges that come with it and how SSL.com can help companies move forward without compromising their security standards.

What is the hybrid workplace?

Remote work has been technologically feasible for some time now. The tools have been there, primarily the effortless connectivity that the Internet provides. It was a matter of concerns about productivity, working hours, lack of direct contact, and control from the part of employers that kept this option out of the discussion. The COVID-19 pandemic blew these concerns away and made remote work a necessity. Organizations had to adapt fast in order to continue to do business. And as it turned out, remote work proved to be as efficient as on-site working. Now that the pandemic is essentially a part of everyday life, some workers are returning to the familiar office environment, but some choose to continue working from home. We are witnessing a major transformation of the work environment. The traditional office with face-to-face interactions is fading away. In its place, a new organizational model is created, where work from home is combined with on-site office workers and remote teams that span the globe. It is not uncommon for companies to have teams collaborating from different time zones. This new working environment, often referred to as the ‘hybrid workplace’, seems to be the new standard from now on.

Advantages of the hybrid workplace

A hybrid workplace comes with a number of advantages, both for employers and employees. First of all, it combines the best of both worlds. A company can maintain a traditional core for business face to face and also reap the benefits of having some employees working remotely. For example, organizations can cut expenses for maintaining a large office space, utilizing solutions like shared desks for employees that work partially from home and in the office. Also, the investments in equipment and know-how during the pandemic for remote work remain useful and retain their value. In addition, the hiring pool is expanded on a global level, since incorporating remote workers is now an organic part of the day-to-day business and presents no real problems apart from different time zones. On the other hand, those employees that adapted well to remote work get to keep their current situation, including no commuting time, and a better work-life balance. However, this model has its own issues. Below, we will discuss the main concerns from a security standpoint. 

Security concerns of the hybrid workplace

One of the main concerns with the hybrid workplace is that employees work from unsafe networks, like those in their homes, or public places, like libraries and cafes. It is rather difficult to make sure that employees have the capability to make these networks safe without help from security specialists. Even for those security specialists, though, defining the security perimeter is an increasingly difficult task, since the traditional model of a private network is now obsolete with teams entering the corporate digital space from multiple networks and in varying hours. The use of private computers for corporate business (often referred to as Bring Your Own Device – BYOD) creates even more potential weak points. Finally, the exchange of corporate information through unsafe channels makes encrypted communication a definite need. 
All these concerns were very real and known during the pandemic, but the situation forced most companies to put them under the rug, hoping that it would be a temporal arrangement. The current situation, though, dictates that remote work is here to stay, and since it will be an integral part of the work arrangements, permanent solutions need to be implemented. This is especially emphasized by the clients’ declining dependency on physical presence for business conduction, but a rising concern about security. The best answer is to keep the clients’ trust by implementing a series of positive actions by the companies before security concerns become security malfunctions. The tools are here and SSL.com can help build a stable infrastructure for this modern era of conducting business. 

How SSL.com Can Help

Most of the security concerns of the hybrid workplace have to do with information exchange through unsafe channels. The answer to this is to implement strong user authentication, along with encryption, and tools that can validate the integrity of the message. If one of those parameters is neglected, then companies are open to a variety of potential threats, like man-in-the-middle and phishing attacks. The gold standard for ensuring authentication, encryption, and message integrity is using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) from a publicly trusted Certification Authority (CA), like SSL.com. The goal in the modern work environment is to design security systems following the guiding principles of Zero Trust Architecture. According to this model, trust is something that is not given explicitly and is often checked. Please find more about this modern security model in our article Zero Trust Architecture: A Brief Introduction.
 
SSL.com offers companies a series of products that when combined with the top-level security know-how of our security team, help build a chain of trust and provide a formidable arsenal for the security challenges that lay ahead in the post-pandemic world. 
 
One of the main ways to exchange information in a hybrid workplace is through email. Even for communication that could be done face-to-face, emailing is fast and convenient, also allowing for asynchronous collaboration. However, email communication is inherently insecure. In order to mitigate potential security threats in the email exchange, the use of S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is one of the best tools available. SSL.com offers S/MIME certificates for a variety of platforms, like Windows, macOS, and iOS
 
Additionally, the hybrid workplace model requires companies to verify an increasing variety of documents, both within the company structures, as well as with clients and external collaborators. The validity of these documents is checked through digital signatures. Digital signatures are pieces of software attached to any document that provides proof of authenticity and integrity to the recipient. SSL.com offers eSigner, a modern solution that treats document signing as a service and is particularly valuable for code signing. This is not the only solution, as SSL.com offers additional digital signatures products, like with the use of a YubiKey
 
Organizations not adapted to having strong security systems, therefore lacking in equipment or dedicated personnel can utilize the  Hosted PKI Solution offered by SSL.com. This solution provides organizations with top-level support and infrastructure for Certificate Lifecycle Management while keeping costs at a minimum. 
 
Also, since the needs of any organization are unique, SSL.com offers the capability of creating a Custom-Branded Issuing CA, which allows them to issue certificates in their own name while utilizing the technology and expertise of a publicly trusted CA. 
 
One of the most important features of digital certificates is their expiration. The expiration and renewal of certificates ensure that all the identity verification details are updated. On the other hand, this procedure protects both companies and customers from the use of outdated security protocols since each renewal incorporates the latest updates for compliance and potential threats. Although very important, though the process of certificates update can become a tedious task, especially when the number of certificates becomes high. An elegant solution offered by SSL.com is the use of Automated Certificate Management Environment (ACME) to easily automate certificate issuance and renewal.
 
Finally, one of the brand new challenges of the workplace is performing exhaustive checks on who and when visits the on-site facilities. A robust checking procedure by utilizing smart devices can prove crucial for protecting the health of employees and the smooth operation of any business. SSL.com offers a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to help businesses integrate the use of smart devices in their day-to-day operations.

Conclusion

The new working environment offers many advantages both for employers and employees, but at the same time raises some security issues that can prove crucial. The technological solutions to overcome these issues are already here and can be covered in large by existing products provided by SSL.com. We hope we could provide some insight on both the challenges that lay ahead, along with possible solutions.

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