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Security

CenturyLink and Cisco take aim at the moving target of secure remote access

Cisco and CenturyLink have launched updated remote access services to address the growing demand for secure connections from residences to enterprise networks as more employees work from home due to social distancing requirements.

An unprecedented number of employees globally are now teleworking due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Cisco and CenturyLink are just two examples of vendors and service providers rethinking their remote access services to address new capacity and security concerns as more employees access private company documents from home.

CenturyLink's Remote Connect service
In a survey of its enterprise customers, CenturyLink revealed that 73% of businesses would like to adopt technology that mimics a corporate IT environment for remote workers – enterprises are faced with growing security concerns over the transfer of private, sensitive company data across home Internet services. While CenturyLink didn't divulge the number of survey respondents, they shared that about one-third of respondents represented small businesses, over a half were from midsized businesses and about 20% represented larger enterprises.

Image courtesy of CenturyLink.
Image courtesy of CenturyLink.

In addition, survey respondents said that 75% of their employees are now working from home, and 72% will continue work-from-home strategies for three to 12 months, or longer. In response, CenturyLink is providing an enterprise-strength Remote Connect network solution that teleworkers can self-install on their existing Internet service. Remote Connect is a managed enterprise service based on Cisco Meraki Remote Connect.

Adam Saenger, VP of Adaptive Networking for CenturyLink, says Remote Connect is an existing service that was updated to provide employees with the ability to self-install the service to assist them in continuing to work from home securely. Saenger says this is just the first step in CenturyLink's efforts to continually address remote workers' security and connectivity needs.

"Because we've seen relative stability of the home network, this solution really rides over the top of that existing connectivity to be turned up quickly and simply, and leverages the existing connectivity or that secure enterprise connectivity into the corporate network," says Saenger.

Cisco's Secure Remote Workforce services
At Cisco Live this week, Cisco announced updates to its suite of Secure Remote Workforce services. Susie Wee, SVP/GM of Cisco DevNet & CX Ecosystem Success, says as Cisco is adapting internally to a new normal of operations, it has applied those learnings to improve secure, remote connection services for its customers as well.

Cisco has packaged its Secure Remote Workforce Solutions in a new way to better address enterprise customers' needs during the pandemic, including Remote Contact Center, which includes technology and deployment services to assist contact center employees in utilizing cloud application or secure remote access to on-premises technology from their homes.

Cisco's own contact center agents began working from home ahead of the pandemic, says Wee. As a result, Cisco had to adjust its own VPN access, and implemented split tunneling so some applications, such as Webex, could connect directly to the cloud instead of through the VPN. Cisco then shared that solution with customers, she adds.

"As our own workforce began working from home, we had to change our VPN usage," says Wee. "You don't want everything coming through the VPN. You have applications that can go directly to the cloud and don't have to go through the VPN."

As new challenges arise from increased use of remote connection tools – some applications require a fixed IP address, for example – Cisco has also added some software solutions in its DevNet community on GitHub for customers to access code that addresses these challenges.

Additional services in Cisco's Secure Remote Workforce include Flexible Remote Access, which is a suite of products and services to provide employees with remote access to their company's network, collaboration tools and business applications. In addition, Secure Remote Worker provides enterprises with the tools to analyze, design, configure and scale current VPN capacity, and do so securely with Cisco Security technology.

Customers' timelines for implementing secure access services has accelerated from months out to requesting these services within a few weeks, says Wee.

"Alongside the product offer, we have a customer experience service offer for customers that want help doing it because they might not have the capacity to do it all themselves," says Wee. "For example, medical centers wanted the extra help so they could focus on handling all the demand from [COVID-19 related] problems that they were addressing for their customers."

CenturyLink's Saenger says businesses overall are looking for a new way to operate, and many employees will continue to use remote access services on a daily basis even as social distancing requirements are lifted.

"That new way of operation doesn't mean that 100% of employees that were in the office will return to the office," he says. "A significant portion will remain in a work-from-home environment which changes the dynamics of business landscape from the network, to the technology and security connecting to that environment, and where assets are deployed in private or public data centers and proximity to the cloud edge."

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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