C&S Companies IT Manager, Jim Harter, knows the right access solution is critical when working with large amounts of sensitive data.

Jun 22 2023

How Companies Secure Remote Network Access

Whether through multifactor authentication or more ambitious strategies, keeping data safe remains a priority.

When it comes to IT, the lines between business and personal — not to mention the basic rules of data security — used to be clearer. In an increasingly flexible and hybrid work landscape, however, those lines have blurred.

It’s not necessarily that there are more threats, says McKinsey cybersecurity expert Soumya Banerjee. It’s that the attack surface has grown, and opportunities for threats to penetrate have substantially multiplied. “Phishing attacks, for example, have been around for at least the past 15 to 20 years,” he says. “But the volume has significantly increased, and they’re especially targeting remote workers.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, many businesses found themselves scrambling to equip their workers and bolster their network security postures to meet the sudden need for remote work options. But some, such as C&S Companies, had long ago started to embrace infrastructure advancements that primed their networks against the threats to come.

In 2018, C&S began exploring how to upgrade its IT infrastructure to accommodate BYOD capabilities and VPN network access for employees.

Founded in 1968 in Syracuse, N.Y., C&S provides engineering, architecture, planning, environmental and construction services to clients in a wide range of industries, including aviation, healthcare, architecture and government.

That work, says C&S IT Manager Jim Harter, demands access to significant amounts of sensitive data. With 16 locations nationwide, ensuring that company networks remained secure was paramount.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got all of our I’s dotted and our T’s crossed,” Harter says. To help, C&S turned to Cisco Meraki.

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Device Management Solutions Boost Network Security

With more than 500 employees scattered around the U.S., C&S needed a secure, cloud-first networking solution that guaranteed seamless access, no matter how remote the workspace. And each of those locations needed a reliable VPN connection that could support a virtual desktop environment.

Remote employees wanted to connect their own devices to the network, and vendors working in the office would routinely connect theirs. This raised security concerns, and Harter realized he would need to prioritize enabling secure connections.

With stringent security requirements at C&S, however, the company needed to fully segregate its wireless network from the corporate LAN. “I was really afraid that somebody would find a way to get onto our central network,” Harter says.

Harter and his team ultimately decided on Cisco Meraki, citing a diverse range of benefits, including cost and ease of use. “It’s just been rock-solid,” he says. “We can manage different networks and devices from one interface, no matter where we are. I use the mobile client at least once a week to test switch ports and firewall settings.”

The company completed the upgrade in 2019, not long after investing in laptops for its entire workforce. Initially intended to meet a growing demand for remote work options, the decision ultimately allowed the company to quickly transition new work models when the pandemic hit in March 2020. “If we hadn’t already done this, we would not have been able to do what we did,” Harter says.

EXPLORE: Get three must-have security solutions for remote work.

MFA Delivers a Second Layer of Protection 

According to Security Magazine, 35 percent of all unauthorized access cases in the third quarter of 2022 resulted from insider threats.

Thwarting the insider threat without disrupting employees’ ability to work can be challenging, says Banerjee. And, for many businesses, securing remote employee access is not enough. They must also secure access for third parties such as customers and partners. 

Take, for example, Aha!, a provider of cloud-based product development software that helps companies bring new products and services to market. With more than 700,000 users around the world, the company wanted a multifactor authentication solution to protect its customers’ intellectual property while keeping things simple.

“Security is critically important to our customers,” says Aha! Co-Founder and CTO Chris Waters. “We wanted to find a user-friendly yet potent layered security solution that could protect our customers’ end users from bad actors. So, we added Duo Security two-factor authentication. Not only did this meet a vital customer need but it’s also simply the right thing to do.”

Jim Harter
We can manage different networks and devices from one interface, no matter where we are.”

Jim Harter Information Technology Manager, C and S Companies

It’s part of a trend that shows no sign of slowing. An estimated 26 percent of U.S. companies use multifactor authentication, according to LastPass, and the likelihood of it being required increases with larger businesses.

“We’re shifting away from strictly knowledge-based authentication,” Banerjee says. It’s become too easy for cybercriminals to steal or guess usernames and passwords. MFA, which can require the person seeking authorization to enter a code sent to their cellphone or insert a physical key via a USB drive, adds another layer of protection.

“We wanted to be certain that our customers would be working in an incredibly secure environment, but at the same time, we did not want them to feel unnecessarily burdened when accessing Aha! software,” Waters says. “Implementing Duo has allowed customers to have added protection on their accounts while keeping the login process easy. It’s as simple as logging in to Aha! and tapping a button on your phone.”


The percentage by which cyberattacks have increased since the beginning of the pandemic

Source: Source: alliancevirtualoffices.com, "Working from Home Increases Cyberattack Frequency by 238%," Feb. 15, 2023

Security Is Just One Consideration for Remote Access

While security might be top of mind for enterprise IT leaders, there are other issues to consider when ensuring network access to key parties.

For example, when specialty insurance provider AmeriTrust decided to modernize its infrastructure and invest in zero-trust network architecture, efficiency was key in its decision to invest in a suite of Juniper Networks solutions.

“We follow a zero-trust framework, and zero trust isn’t just about security,” says Brent Riley, senior vice president of IT for AmeriTrust. “It’s about observability across all your endpoints, across all your workstations, across all your servers. We need to be able to optimize, troubleshoot and be proactive.”

To help get there, AmeriTrust deployed Juniper wireless access points, Marvis Virtual Network Assistant, Session Smart Router, SRX series firewalls, QFX Series switches, MX Series routers and Apstra fabric conductor technology.

LEARN MORE: How can zero trust protect your data amid growing threats.

AmeriTrust, a division of AF Group, a nationally recognized holding company, is a niche-focused commercial insurance underwriter and insurance administration services company. Naturally, it has a wealth of sensitive data to protect. But Riley says he’s also committed to protecting work-life balance for his team and recruiting the best candidates for that team.

Doing so requires investing in solutions that minimize the burden on IT security workers, — especially in a setting where many are doing their jobs remotely. By providing AmeriTrust with “single pane of glass” functionality, the company’s Juniper investment helps maintain complete network visibility across all its IT environments with less manpower. 

To support both security and efficiency, AmeriTrust deployed a secure, artificial intelligence-driven network from Juniper throughout its offices, data centers and enterprise WAN. Juniper’s zero-trust data center architecture includes advanced threat management, centralized management, policy enforcement and analytics. It secures applications distributed across physical data centers, private clouds and public cloud environments.

“There’s an issue of work-life balance that comes with this,” Riley says. “Having solutions that aren’t easily manageable comes with the risk of recruiting good people and not keeping them here and engaged. Bringing these types of solutions is smart from a security standpoint and an operating standpoint. People start enjoying their jobs again.”

Photography by Matt Wittmeyer

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