Laptop and AF coffee cup (Air Force)

COMMENTARY

Securing DOD telework for the long-term

Today, Department of Defense missions are executed from diverse environments -- in the field, in the office, and from dining room tables as a result of COVID-19.

“We are creating a much more robust, enhanced teleworking capability,” DOD CIO Dana Deasy said at an April 13 Pentagon news conference. “What we've now done is we've just put a multiplier effect into the quantity, the types of services, the collaboration tools, etc. So there will be some permanency to what we have here  ... that will be sustained at the end of COVID-19.”

While the majority of IT and program managers (81%) say they would like to see DOD telework more frequently in the future, according to a recent survey, continued remote collaboration raises important considerations around securing DOD networks, clouds and endpoints.

Defense agencies must provide the right access to the right employees so they can fulfill job requirements and continue to meet mission goals, securely and remotely. Many IT managers have made adjustments to support telework and continue mission-critical work by increasing capacity through virtual private networks (VPNs), adopting a commercial virtual remote environment, providing telework-specific security training, configuring Wi-Fi according to security best practices and ensuring devices are up-to-date on patching.

Looking ahead, DOD must take the lessons learned from the initial telework surge and scale to sustain the shift as it continues to improve operational efficiency and push modernization forward.  

Short-term fixes to long-term solutions

For a more telework-friendly environment, DOD must focus on increasing access to government-issued devices, expanding bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, as it leverages cloud and promotes secure collaboration solutions. This will be a two-fold approach addressing technology and culture.

Security and access technology. As DOD considers investments in remote office equipment and secure remote collaboration tools, like chat applications, cloud-based email and video conferencing, research shows security is the top collaboration challenge for many DOD IT and program managers. Agencies should look to new or expanded capabilities to improve security and access – VPN capacity, cloud, security as-a-service models and common access card/personal identity verification readers for home access, for example. These tools should be evaluated to ensure prevention of unauthorized access on the network, while controlling authorized user access -- and importantly -- reducing credential compromise and protect users’ identities.

In addition, while many DOD agencies had to ramp up the number of government-issued laptops and mobile devices to support telework in the short-term, more might be required to continue this shift. Defense agencies should consider next steps to phase in more government-issued devices to remote employees.

Cultivate a collaborative culture. Equally important to the shift in security and access technology is the cultural shift in how employees communicate and collaborate as they work from any location.

Following issues around security, DOD IT and program managers report that their top collaboration challenges have been around document sharing and lack of team communication. So as defense agencies increase their use of collaboration tools, they should also increase security education and training for employees both in and out of the office to ensure both IT and end-users apply best practices. Similarly, as more employees use personal devices for remote work, DOD should reevaluate and update security education for remote employees and BYOD usage.

Remember, it is a team effort to stay productive and connected. IT and program managers must work together on telework challenges and prioritize effective solutions. Communication will encourage investments in foundational improvements, such as network modernization and remote device visibility, to secure the mission at home, in the office and in the field.

The path forward

Recent research shows that 89% of IT and 80% of program managers agree lessons learned from the initial surge in telework will leave the DOD better prepared to support warfighters at the edge. We are all learning.

While there is no silver bullet to the sustained shift to telework, there are steps agencies can take by looking at security, collaboration and scalable networks.

About the Author

Greg Myers is vice president, federal, at Microsoft.

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