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Security challenges of the hybrid workforce

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic made working from home the only safe and sane option for businesses and their workers, the problem of how to print business documents securely to and from home lived on that list of problems to be solved later.

Three months into the pandemic, 57% of businesses were supporting a work-from-home (WFH) option for their employees.

By the end of 2020, 94% of businesses—large and small—had decided that working from home did not adversely affect productivity but, instead, actually enhanced it. They also found that WFH costs less, too—much less.

This “lived” realization revised the list of IT infrastructure problems that wanted solving. It moved the still-unsolved challenge of print-from-home security close to the top of the list of problems that needed to be solved to support a distributed workforce.

Jack Mannino, CEO of security firm nVisium put it succinctly (Forbes, Dec. 7, 2020): “The shift to remote work has prompted many organizations to make significant new investments in their IT systems and infrastructure. While the shift has already happened for many, the security debt created in the process has not been addressed in many places. Securing a remote workforce requires a different mindset and presents an expanded perimeter for an attack.”

This “expanded perimeter for attack” was not exactly a new problem, though. It was an at-least-close-relative of the challenges faced and solved as the Internet gave birth to cloud computing. The cloud itself has been “under construction” since the 1990s. Viable, scalable paradigms for offsite data services have been growing in place since the early 2000s, driven and funded by global technology giants like Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Adding Cloud compute power in the form of SaaS applications fed the digital business boom of the early 2000s. The year 2020’s global health crisis has driven the development of secure cloud print solutions.

By the time businesses desperately needed a way to securely share print resources between office and home, the pieces of a solution already existed. The technology challenge became combining them effectively to create a way for WFH employees to print work documents without opening doors (or Windows) for attackers, without making them invest in new printers and without needing to invent DIY solutions to a pretty much universal problem.

The right solution needed to be secure, accessible, and affordable. And preferably, small. Well before a subcellular bit of viral DNA threw a wrench in the global business machine, corporate adopters of Cloud business solutions had encountered the need to as well as the challenge of securing the network edge against tech savvy attackers. Vulnerable industries ranged from stock trading to banking to shipping to healthcare to aeronautics—all enterprises that require the ability to ensure the data safety of their users.  

How to secure the network edge? In all of these industries, securing the network edge became essential for two reasons: to protect confidential information and to protect human life. With that much at stake, a lot of brainpower focused on the problem of the cloud/edge security conundrum.

Or, to put it in humbler and more specific business terms, how can the at-home worker use his or her home computer to print work documents without opening up that perimeter for attack? The answer looks something like this:

  • Eliminate the need for on-premise print infrastructure
  • Put simple, compact “server power” at the edge.
  • Manage print services in the cloud.
  • Secure transit between locations using already-robust internet security protocols.
  • Keep it affordable.

Piece of cake, right? Microsoft 365 describes its cloud print solution this way: “It unblocks the move to the cloud and supports print for Azure AD [Active Directory] users without a complex hybrid print setup. Universal Print eliminates the need for on-premise infrastructure and enables IT to manage printers directly through a centralized portal.” This important piece of the WFH print puzzle addresses several key issues:

  • It eliminates the need for expensive, centralized on-premise print servers
  • It puts print functionality securely in the cloud
  • It enables home workers to safely and efficiently print business documents
  • It enables at-home and at-work staff to securely print essential documents at either location

On the business side, it’s all pluses. How about for the home worker? In the very simplest terms, being able to print business documents securely at home means never having to go to the office. In pandemic times, that’s a special form of physical security.

Being able to use your home computer to share print documents with distant workers keeps you and your contributions relevant. That’s job security. Being able to protect your home computer from security breaches that might compromise personal information provides personal safety.

An additional advantage for WFH staff is the ability to enjoy cloud print capabilities and security protections without having to invest in a new personal printer. For businesses that provision employees with work laptops for home use, the savings here can be even more substantial.

For all parties, there’s economic benefit to be gained. The wheel didn’t need to be reinvented. Only how the wheel is used.

Okay, that’s a metaphor. The wheel here is the internet. How the wheel is used means how internet security protocols can be and have been applied to secure the content of WFH computers and corporate office print systems. The internet and its security protocols constitute one of the great human intellectual and engineering achievements of all time. And while many proprietary uses of those technologies have evolved over time, the internet itself remains both a shared engineering project and a public trust.

To users, business and personal, this means that security solutions developed in the context of this globally shared asset are as good as it gets. Not only do they represent immense collective ingenuity, they are constantly evolving to meet emerging human needs.

Leveraging internet standard safety protocols to protect home computers and business networks from intrusion is both an individual and a collective accomplishment. On both sides of that door, the work goes on.

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