Secure connectivity in the age of the teleworker
As the service and information sectors grow into larger and more important parts of the world economy, working remotely, particularly from home, has grown more commonplace. While there are many factors contributing to this movement, one important driver has been the increasing availability of reliable broadband Internet connections to the home over the years.
But working from home requires a somewhat different set of guidelines and requirements than working from an office. Obviously, one key requirement is an adequate connection back to the company’s systems, applications and data. Until now, that requirement has essentially meant a connection to the Internet. As the number of people teleworking increases and the amount of information they send and receive is more critical, organizations realize that they need to ensure secure access for their home-office workers and are beginning to explore all of their secure connectivity options in earnest.
There are three ways for teleworkers to connect from their home office back to their corporate LAN – a wireless cellular connection, a wired broadband connection via the Internet or a private Ethernet connection.
The main benefit of using a cellular connection is that it allows teleworkers to work from anywhere there is a connection to a cellular tower. That includes being able to move around anywhere in the home, or taking work on the road to a café or a hotel and not having to worry about what kind of connection is available.
Primary concerns include performance, cost and security since wireless signals are more susceptible to being intercepted.
Connecting a computer to the Internet via a wired connection eliminates many of the concerns that come from wireless – a malicious actor would have to physically tap into the wires somewhere along the line.
However, the employee must conduct business over the public Internet, even if accessing it over a broadband connection. The public Internet, while cost-effective, comes with its own security and performance concerns for corporate IT departments.
VPN isn’t enough
To help solve some of the security concerns with wired and wireless connections, nearly all teleworkers connect back to their offices via a virtual private network, or VPN.
A VPN connection essentially creates a secure, private “tunnel” through the public Internet to a corporate office at the other end. This allows home workers to run server-based applications, like Microsoft Outlook, as though they were in the office.
The VPN solves the problem of shared Internet connections, as is the case with most cable broadband connections to the home. Workers may share the connection with their neighbors, but they don’t share the tunnel or, more importantly, the data that travels back and forth through it.
While the VPN solves the shared connections of the public Internet, there are still a few problems with using a VPN, including ones common to all users – performance and complexity.
Using a VPN will increase the latency of the broadband connection, in some cases by a lot. Back when connections to the Internet were slow, that latency wasn’t very noticeable. But with modern broadband connections in the U.S. hovering around 30.7 Mbps, that latency has become a real concern.
In addition, VPNs require dedicated client software on the teleworker’s machine, or even special hardware. Often those do not function properly due to log-in problems, conflicts with other software on the machine or user error – all of which require the time and expense of remote troubleshooting from corporate IT.
One new solution for addressing these security concerns is an Ethernet private line to a teleworker’s home, which allows a company to completely sidestep Internet-related or complex VPN concerns altogether by extending private links from a corporate network to teleworkers’ homes over the company’s existing hybrid-fiber coax network.
This provides a quick and cost-effective way to connect lots of teleworkers and addresses the top two concerns for businesses with employees accessing company resources and information from home – security and performance.
An Ethernet private line to a home allows the employee to access company assets via a private connection, bypassing the Internet altogether, which eliminates an external intrusion point and the need to encrypt the data to and from their home.
Since the connection is Ethernet, just like on a company’s office network, it makes the work-at-home experience feel and perform the same as being in the office: teleworkers simply “plug-in” in at home and access their company email, servers and data so they can get to work.
Steve Walsh is vice president of Comcast Business for Comcast’s Greater Boston Region, which includes New Hampshire.