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Zero trust: enabling business continuity and security during a pandemic

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Zero trust: enabling business continuity and security during a pandemic 1

From business owners and management staff to IT support and security teams, more people than ever are now working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

As a result, many companies are starting to realise their ageing systems with a limited number of connections are no longer up to the task. Organisations are also struggling to ensure staff continue to use systems securely while working remotely.

We recently warned of a rise in cyber criminals exploiting the pandemic and taking advantage of the increasing amount of time people are spending online. However, as we highlighted in our blog, security not only concerns itself with stopping the ‘bad guys’ but also making sure that only the authorised staff can access systems.

At Burning Tree, we’ve found that customers who have adopted cloud technologies and implemented a zero-trust architecture within their business have adapted more seamlessly to the current situation.

What do we mean by ‘zero trust’?

The seeds of ‘zero trust’ were first planted in 2004 by the Jericho Forum, which wanted to explore the potential to develop common security architectures to support the de-perimeterisation of networks. These early predictions can be seen in many industries today, with hybrid networks across all sectors.

In its simplest form, ‘zero trust’ means that nothing is trusted in itself. Every user, device, service or application is connected — glued together by the network. As such, every single user, device, service or application is implicitly untrusted and must go through a robust identity and access management process to gain a least privileged level of trust and associated access entitlements.

The latest security buzzword

Though the principles of zero trust are largely unchanged, the security network perimeter has disappeared, and the complex threat landscape is ever-evolving.

Many organisations are still using legacy applications and identity systems — which focus on the person only and are not built for the zero-trust model — or access control systems which lack contextual analytics.

North-South packet inspection and zone-based firewalls are no longer good enough. Network access control (NAC) is no longer practical due to trust erosion and the inconsistency of devices and applications. Where statistically the majority of threats were internal, now they come from the outside, too. The current coronavirus situation has also put a real strain on traditional VPN access, as entire workforces are required to work from home.

Vendors have caught onto the enormity of the problem, and many are investing heavily in anticipation of demand. Unfortunately, this increased demand also means ‘zero trust’ has become the latest security buzzword — making it significantly more difficult for companies to position security changes and technology investment.

Much of what we are seeing in this area is driven by emerging technology and business trends. Privacy and data protection following GDPR are still at the forefront — but disruption, innovation and change are the new norm. However, there is still a growing need for cyber security to become more proactive and user friendly.

Establishing zero-trust architecture

To help you make the right security decisions and demystify the topic, we wanted to break down some of the steps and applications involved in implementing a zero-trust approach.

DevOps and microservices are fast becoming the standard, with imbedded security meaning ‘DevOps’ is now changing to ‘DevSecOps’. Modern cloud-enabled applications are increasingly being developed according to security standards such as OWASP Top Ten, while digital authentication credentials and privileged access are being managed through vaulting passwords.

Zero-trust architecture is established when network, application and identity and access management (IAM) co-operate to protect corporate data.

Zero-trust networking (ZTN) is one component of an end-to-end zero-trust model. It focuses on the IP network where all network traffic is considered untrusted. For ZTN to be effective, every session must first be authenticated, authorised and accounted for before communication is allowed to be established. ZTN enforces security policies at the edge of networks and stops malicious traffic at its origin — not in the middle of the network or at the front door of an endpoint or application.

However, the endpoint needs to be authenticated as much as the individual. To manage this in the world of PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones — even gaming platforms and smart TVs — authentication needs to have adaptive and context-based capabilities to create a signature for users. Employing step-up and multifactor authentication will help to strengthen this trust, while the use of identity as an application programming interface (API) can improve reliability and reduce fraud.

IAM is then the glue to establishing trust. The classic IAM solutions (such as employee perimeters with federated access) are no longer effective. While these systems can be leveraged to manage the identity lifecycle of employees, it is the access framework that needs to incorporate the appropriate functionality to maintain trust.

Trusting the technology

Getting your zero-trust architecture right will deliver great benefits and allow your computer-based workforce to work from anywhere, at any time, using any device — and more importantly, to do so securely. Burning Tree can help demystify the hype and apparent complexity of zero-trust to help you realise these benefits.

We offer a range of consulting services and work with our partners to provide a range of identity management, access control, network security and secure application development solutions.

To help establish a zero-trust solution, technology can be broadly divided into three main groups:

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Two-thirds of finance professionals are now more efficient due to the Covid-19 crisis

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Two-thirds of finance professionals are now more efficient due to the Covid-19 crisis 2

The Covid-19 crisis is making a big impact on the efficiency of the UK’s finance departments, with 66% of financial professionals reporting that they are working more efficiently since the onset of the pandemic in March of this year. The results from a recent survey into the impact of the pandemic on the sector by fintech company Onguard revealed that this increased efficiency is primarily due to the obligation to work from home and rapid digitisation during this period.

Changing attitudes to digital transformation

71% of financial professionals agree that their department was able to rapidly adjust to home working within just a few days, with 21% reporting that their organisation has invested in specialist software in order to do so. This has resulted in just under three quarters of those surveyed believing that they are able to perform their work well from home, with only 35% still in need of specialist software to collaborative effectively.

Alongside the implementation of new technology, changing attitudes to digital transformation have played a role in the successful move to remote working. Research conducted earlier this year prior to the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK highlighted employees’ resistance to digital transformation as a major challenge, however now only 11% of organisations view employee attitudes as a barrier to change.

Working from home is the new norm

Looking ahead, 61% of financial professionals would like the flexibility to keep working from home permanently, thanks to the benefits provided by new technology.

Marieke Saeij, CEO of Onguard: “It is certainly admirable how English businesses have adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic, digital transformation initiatives within many organisations was a multi-year plan, but the events of this year meant that businesses could not wait to implement further strategies. Almost exclusively, colleagues now update each other digitally. Because of this, its crucial that organisations have the right software in place to keep everything running effectively.

Due to the challenge of finance professionals communicating via digital tools, it is important that data is kept up-to-date and contains real-time insights so professionals can make the correct remote decisions in an efficient and collaborative way. With the help of the right software, the finance professional can be sure they always have the correct data to do their job and assist both the organisation and customer moving forward.”

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Two thirds of people believe their work travel patterns have changed permanently

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Two thirds of people believe their work travel patterns have changed permanently 3

Alphabet research shows accelerating demand for mobility and EVs after lockdown

  • Only 35% of people expect to return to normal travel habits
  • A quarter of consumers said their next vehicle would be electric
  • 55% of consumers think all delivery vans should be electric, and one in three would pay extra to guarantee it

Farnborough, UK – 29 September 2020: Alphabet (GB) today published a new report examining how the pandemic has accelerated changes to travel and transport, altering consumer and business travel habits in UK cities.

Changing travel patterns

With mass migration to working from home, in March, road traffic travel dropped to levels not seen since 1955[1] and journeys on the London Underground fell by 95%[2]. Today, only 6% of those travelling to work by train feel comfortable, dropping to just 4% for tube users.

Use of more active modes of transport like cycling and walking have more than doubled to 20% and 10% respectively. A quarter of 18-44-year olds expect to retain the new modes of travel they used during lockdown, and only one in three expects a return to normal travel patterns.

Private vehicle preference

As such, the company car may also see a surge in popularity. Alphabet’s research showed 37% of consumers would now consider using a company car following the pandemic, to enable them to travel safely, whereas prior to lockdown many employees favoured a cash benefit. These changes are likely to remain for some time due to ongoing safety concerns and fleet managers will need to have a flexible fleet offering to handle these changing preferences when building their future mobility plans.

Electric Drive

The improvements in city air quality during lockdown appear to have had an impact on public perception and sales of electric vehicles (EV). Adoption of EVs continued to accelerate during the pandemic, taking a record market share of new vehicle registrations in August. Nearly a quarter (24%) of consumers said an EV or plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) would be their next choice and 40% would strongly consider one. This is a substantial increase from the 19% of people considering EVs at the end of 2019[3].

People also want to see businesses supporting the shift to EVs and are prepared to pay for it. Over half (55%) of respondents felt delivery vans should be electric, while one in three said they would be happy to pay extra for an electric delivery vehicle. Fleets that make the shift early have the opportunity to benefit significantly in terms of brand perception and preference.

Simon Swan, Director Future Mobility, Arcadis said: “Due to the impact of COVID-19, all sales of vehicles took a major hit; however, electric vehicles were affected less than other vehicle types. As the UK emerges from lockdown, electric vehicle registrations continue to rise in absolute numbers with August new car registrations figures showing a record market share for pure electric cars. Analysts were expecting EV sales to hit 10% of new car registrations in 2022, not 2020. Hitting 9.7% in August is a big deal for the UK market.”

Alan McCleave, UK General Manager, NewMotion said: “As adoption spreads and we embrace electric vehicles – especially in the commercial sector – we need a much more robust smart charging infrastructure. Fleet managers need to feel confident that powering their plug-in vehicles will be as simple and reliable as it is for traditional vehicles. Introducing interoperability, so a single payment solution works across all charging networks, is a large and necessary change. With a focus on electrification, and the infrastructure to support it, fleets will be a central part of the national recovery from COVID-19 and our path to a greener economy.”

Nick Brownrigg, Chief Executive Officer, Alphabet (GB) said: “The pandemic has had a huge impact on people and businesses, fundamentally changing how we move around and use our cities. While we can’t be sure of the long-term impact, it’s clear a lot of these changes are here to stay, and for fleet managers flexibility becomes ever more important. At Alphabet, we are working closely with all our customers to help them navigate the new world. People are adopting new habits and behaviours so it’s key that digitalisation and sustainability are central to any fleet strategy. Now is the time for all of us to invest and meet the changing needs of employees and customers, so we can ensure everyone feels safe and confident when travelling to work.”

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Death of the workplace friendship: study shows how remote working is eroding our meaningful connections with colleagues

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Death of the workplace friendship: study shows how remote working is eroding our meaningful connections with colleagues 4
  • Employee experience platform Perkbox’s research on 1,296 employees and 300 business leaders reveal 65% think the ‘new way of working’ will take its toll on workplace friendships
  • 45% of employees say that maintaining emotional wellbeing still remains one of the biggest remote working challenges; yet only 20% of bosses agree

  • Meanwhile 35% of business leaders confess they are struggling to cope with the pressures of keeping employees happy at the risk of their own personal wellbeing

Friendships at work have long been a debated topic pre-COVID: arguments either side profess these to be both conducive or a hindrance to productivity and creativity. Yet, according to new research into the national state of employee wellbeing conducted by employee experience platform Perkbox, 45% of 1,296 respondents say that maintaining emotional wellbeing still remains one of the biggest remote working challenges facing businesses, with 65% believing that workplace friendships – now even more critical in the ‘new working world’ – are suffering because of remote working.

Colleague camaraderie in the age of COVID

The benchmarking study saw that 54% of employees now believe that maintaining ‘social wellbeing’ (how connected we feel with our colleagues and the wider world) presents one of the biggest wellbeing challenges in light of remote working – an increase of 18% from Perkbox’s study of the same sample set the previous month.

Yet there is a clear disconnect between what employees feel and what their employers believe: only 12% of business leaders recognise their employees’ social wellbeing as a significant challenge in the age of remote working, and only 20% of bosses (compared with 45% of employees) believe that maintaining ‘emotional wellbeing’ (how we feel about stress, anxiety and our overall mental health) is a significant challenge that mustbe addressed.

Some employers, however, confess that they are struggling with the pressures of keeping their employees happy, safe and productive during this ‘new normal’, with 35% saying that this has been at the cost of looking after their own personal wellbeing.

Mona Akiki, VP of People, Perkbox, commented: “Many organisations pre-COVID either didn’t pay much attention to friendships at work or focused on it as a way to ensure that it didn’t create any conflicts within the organisation. Today, we’re realising that strong colleague interactions seem to matter to an employee’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Remote working appears to have created nervousness around our sense of connectivity and camaraderie with our colleagues. Forward thinking organisations are quickly realising that this should matter to them as well.

Although organisations didn’t necessarily cause the current climate, the increased sense of anxiety and burnout amongst their employees who are now living and working in silo at home will not only impact the individual’s health but also the wellbeing of the team and the business. Both employees and employers must work together to combat this challenge and achieve wellbeing before it becomes an even bigger issue.”

Sedentary and sad

The third instalment of Perkbox’s benchmarking study also showed, for the first time, how physical health due to less movement has risen to be one of the top three wellbeing challenges for employees (after social and emotional wellbeing). With the removal of the daily commute and longer hours spent at the computer in order to appear more productive and thus more indispensable, 37% of employees believe that their physical wellbeing has suffered – with lack of exercise fuelling the emotional crutch of unhealthy comforts such as takeaways, binge watching and excessive drinking. The government’s recent guidance to “work from home, if you can” could exacerbate the problem further.

Tackling the problem 

Before and during the earlier months of COVID-19, workspace wellbeing (how the safety of our work environment and / or ability to work well from home is affecting us) was the most implemented initiative by 79% of businesses, with initiatives around social wellbeing coming a close second (75%). Yet – perhaps because of the economic uncertainty brought about by COVID compounded by the lack of acknowledgement by bosses that emotional and social wellbeing is a problem felt by employees – 16% of small business say they have no plans to implement initiatives to tackle these challenges; a figure which has doubled from the previous Perkbox study.

Furthermore, 30% of smaller business have no plans to implement financial wellbeing support during this critical period (compared to 9% in the last study); 23% have no plans to implement physical wellbeing initiatives (an increase from 9% previously), and 13% have no plans to implement emotional wellbeing initiatives to support employees’ mental health (compared to 5% previously).

“There is a concerning trend – especially among smaller businesses – about disinvesting in overall employee wellbeing initiatives at a time where support is needed the most,” commented Mona Akiki, Perkbox.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding that these initiatives need not be expensive but considered, human-centric and empathetic to the emotional, social, physical and financial challenges that beset us every day, hindering us from our ability to perform optimally. A team whose wellbeing has been adequately attended to has the resilience, energy and creativity to weather business challenges more effectively than a team whose members are emotionally, physically and socially run ragged. Our research acts as a barometer for how pressing these concerns are to both employees and employers. These challenges, at least for the medium term, are here to stay. It’s time that businesses invest in employee wellbeing as part of a wider essential strategy to ‘keep the lights on’ where others are floundering.”

As part of Perkbox’s New Working World series, a number of surveys and reports are being produced to track employee sentiment towards wellbeing as we exit a post-Covid world. This is being run alongside a survey of UK employers to see the business perspective on wellbeing impact in light of 2020’s events. For more information and full report on the studies findings, visit: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/new-working-world

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