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Using software asset management to mitigate the security risk of remote working by Libby Bagley

With nearly a third of the population having received their first vaccination, and talk of all legal restrictions regarding social distancing to be lifted by June 21st, there’s certainly light at the end of the tunnel; an indication that life could soon return to normal.

However, what we can go back to, and what we choose to go back to could be two very different things. Whilst there are plenty of things the nation will no doubt be glad to see the back of, remote working isn’t one of them. In fact, a recent survey suggests 80% of workers would prefer not to go back to the office full-time.

As well as improving work-life balance and saving on transport, there are benefits for employers too, with many employees feeling more productive from home and saving time on their commute.

However, remote working also leaves a business more at risk of cybersecurity threats.

The average home setup is far less restricted than an office environment, with admin rights allowing staff to easily download free trials of products that could pose a threat. Not being on the same centralised system for updating anti-virus software causes further problems, leaving businesses vulnerable, with customer data, financial stats and other corporate information all at risk of being exposed.

Add to this, increasingly sophisticated malware and security threats and it’s clear we need to place more emphasis on the security risks of remote working. In fact, government research shows that in the months following lockdown last year, more businesses than ever faced cyber attacks and breaches.

It’s clear that organisations need to understand the risks they face and address them accordingly. To achieve this, security and software asset management (SAM) teams should work together to share information.

What’s the relationship between software asset management and cybersecurity? 

Software asset management tools exist to provide you with a complete view of your IT estate. They can show you all software licenses and deployments, who is using them, and how they are being used. This means IT teams can ensure all products are up to date and patches have been installed, as well as making sure any vulnerabilities which could affect their business have been removed.

The security risks posed by software 

Using outdated software or not updating software

Outdated software is a huge risk to your business, making you a potential target for cyber thieves. This was the case with the recent WannaCry Ransomware attack on Windows XP. Microsoft fixed the vulnerabilities within the Windows Server component and a patch was

provided for many operating systems. These updates and patches can be automatically downloaded or deployed by the systems SAM tools hook onto.

Not updating to the latest version of software can also leave you open to similar

risk. Fixing security flaws or patching vulnerabilities is their most crucial function and, to be blunt, putting this off leaves you exposed.

Adding software indiscriminately

SAM tools are particularly useful for identifying any rogue IT installations, and unmanaged or unregulated IT resources. This might include illegal digital downloads, or an online purchase from an unknown vendor for example.

Sharing removable media

The use of removable media is a common way that inappropriate software is shared from machine to machine, but doing so can compromise assets, open breaches, or cause similar problems.

Staff and contractors

Team members working from home and accessing the network via unmanaged devices may not receive the same automatic patches or software updates they would have from the office. However, for the same reason, it’s also important to consider freelancers and contractors, as well as former staff who may still have access to your organisation’s network because their accounts have not yet been shut down. With so many businesses currently making redundancies, and plenty looking to rebuild their workforce in 2021, it’s important to make this part of your leavers and movers policy.

2020 was a testing year for almost every business, but many have risen to the challenge making the necessary changes to help teams work remotely. In order for these efforts not to go to waste, security needs to be the focus for remote working in 2021, with security and SAM teams collaborating closely to protect their organisations.

Libby Bagley is Community Manager at License Dashboard, which specialises in software asset management and licensing expertise for large and fast-growing organisations.

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