Staying safe, staying Agile

How to keep your network secure & Agile during COVID-19

Paul Cooney
© Shutterstock / venimo

This article looks at the best ways to keep your corporate network secure and agile during the Coronavirus pandemic. And while mainly written with DevOps managers in mind, there are also plenty of key points for remote working developers to think about – after all, we need to support one another as a team during these tough times!

Developers, like many other workers in the digital economy, are leaving their offices in droves and preparing to hunker down at home to continue their valuable work.

As this mass exodus of employees takes place, there are questions you must ask like, ‘Am I fully prepared for this new normal? Is my team? Are we covering our bases from not just a social standpoint, but technically and operationally as well?’

Security and agility are critical IT components on a daily basis, but your remote workers may not share these same standards (and even if they do, they may not know how to take the appropriate steps for compliance). For example, do you take your office’s high speed and secure cloud direct connect for granted when accessing cloud-based services? How will you handle patches and back-ups?

This article looks at the best ways to keep your corporate network secure and agile during the Coronavirus pandemic. And while mainly written with DevOps managers in mind, there are also plenty of key points for remote working developers to think about – after all, we need to support one another as a team during these tough times!

SEE ALSO: DevOps at scale: Winning strategies for modern enterprises

Safety and security

Managing a secure VPN

A VPN is an operational minimum when it comes to keeping business assets safe. Now is the time to make sure that your remote employees have their VPN credentials set up and that there is sufficient capacity to cope with the extra demand from developers and other remote personnel logging in from outside the corporate network.

There may be policy issues to decide on. For example, can multiple employees log on at the same time? If not, will one user get priority over another, or will they be given allocated time slots? Issues like these should ideally be resolved before any employees are sent home to work.

Stay On Top of Patching and Updates

Did you know that Microsoft alone releases patches containing fixes for hundreds of common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) each month? Other competent software companies also do the same for their products, so be ready to implement them as necessary.

Developers working in an office will normally receive these updates automatically while plugged into the corporate network, but remote workers could easily miss them. That’s why it’s important to ensure that all developers are included in your company’s update schedule (e.g. by emailing updates or instructing remote workers to connect to the corporate network at an agreed time).

Cloud-based patch management services are another option for some businesses.

Protecting home networks and devices

Logging on to a secure, patched VPN with MFA should ensure that business assets stored and transmitted within the network are protected. However, what about code that is stored on individual devices connected to the web via home WiFi?

Or, how about cloud resources accessed privately over the internet (i.e. without the protection of an Azure or AWS direct connect)?

To protect mobile and desktop devices from external threats, they should be fitted with device-based firewalls wherever possible. Home-based developers are advised to turn off remote management and WPS on their home network and ensure passwords and credentials are both strong and regularly changed.

Firewalls should be turned on and, ideally, the network is hidden once in use (although this could cause problems if other people are accessing remotely as well).

Shoring up company policies

Chances are, your company’s security policies were built around an on-premise network. Even before the current health crisis began, remote working has often undermined these policies.

Now that WFH has become the norm, it is time to dust down those policies, pull them apart and overhaul them.

Issues such as data privacy, network access management, device management, back-up schedules and disaster recovery all need to be clarified and updated. Training should be incorporated to ensure all employees know what they need to do to keep the business safe from threats.

Enforcement measures also need to be clearly specified so that breaches can be tied in with standard disciplinary procedures.

Agility and productivity

Access to resources

In order to hit the ground running, developers will need to have access to all of the resources they are used to (or acceptable alternatives). This includes not only physical assets and software (laptops, chargers, IDEs, code editors, etc.), but also digital resources such as code repositories, office suites, IT support portals, etc.

Licenses need to be checked and extended (or updated) where necessary, and employees must be given the necessary credentials to access resources remotely. It is also worth checking third party COVID-19 updates, as there may be changes or disruption to some of the services you take for granted.

Establishing communication channels

Clear communication is vital to ensure that employees work as productively as possible. Reinforcing communication channels is particularly important right now, where companies need to be prepared to adapt quickly to any changes announced by state and/or federal Coronavirus updates.

Your disaster recovery plan should already be on standby (if not in operation!), with a staffing matrix filled out detailing key personnel and their alternates.

A daily management briefing is also a good idea so that developers can stay in the loop with company and team updates.

Managing expenses

Expenses may be an area more suited to HR, but be warned! If you are a DevOps manager, expect your remote team to query you constantly about covering extra expenses. Exceeding home network bandwidth caps, using extra cell phone data and increased travel costs are common complaints from new remote workers who feel that these expenses shouldn’t come out of their own pockets.

If you can get clarity on the company’s expense policy now, you can be ahead of the curve when the queries start flooding in.

SEE ALSO: GitLab is open sourcing 18 features for the DevOps lifecycle

Future-proofing – the DevOps manager’s role

Nobody can blame a company for not being fully ready for a global pandemic. However, when this finally blows over, you as a DevOps manager have a vital role to play in securing your company’s future. By assessing what worked well, what could have been done better and by getting together with your CTO (and perhaps even a third party IT or data center consultant), you can help design a more robust and agile network for the future.

Finally, and most importantly, security and productivity can only be protected if you have a physically and mentally healthy workforce. Make sure you follow all company, state and federal COVID-19 advice and check in with one another regularly.


Paul Cooney

Paul Cooney is the Founder and President of Shamrock Consulting Group. He found early success selling fixed wireless for Teligent, Inc. in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Seeking stability during the tumultuous burst of the dot-coms and ubiquitous telecom bankruptcies, he headed out West to Hermosa Beach, CA and worked for AT&T as an enterprise sales representative. Paul worked his way up to the top rep in the country and took over the struggling Los Angeles sales team, turning them into one of the best in the country within 6 months. In 2008, Paul left AT&T to create Shamrock after noticing a large gap in the industry for an independent direct sales agency with the capability of selling any product from any provider. Get connected on LinkedIn.

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