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Remote access still faces hurdles of security, disaster recovery

Andrew R. Hickey

Remote access has become commonplace, and many IT managers are more comfortable with allowing staff to work remotely, but a recent survey sponsored by SonicWall found that when staff go remote, the same managers are still concerned about security, disaster recovery and productivity.

More than half of the survey's 1,184 respondents felt that offering employees the ability to work remotely is a competitive necessity and a motivating perk for employees. More than one third of the 1,184 managers surveyed have employees who work outside the office more than 20% of the time. Among the top reasons respondents considered working remotely as an option were employee motivation, 26%; cost of office space, 15%; rising gas prices, 14%; and traffic or weather conditions, 14%.

More than half of the managers surveyed said they have a formal remote worker policy, but many said they will still have concerns until working remotely becomes a more accepted practice.

The most common concerns include:

  • Worry over whether remote workers will remain productive
  • Challenges to building strong teams
  • Security breaches resulting from remote access

"Our findings confirm that the majority of IT managers need to reassess their plans for safely connecting remote workers to corporate network resources," said Steve Franzese, vice president of marketing at SonicWall. "In

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our 2006 survey of remote workers, we found that security rated very low on their priority list. It's therefore incumbent upon IT administrators to deploy flexible and practical secure remote access technology that enforces strict security but is easy to manage and even easier for remote employees to use."

IT managers also indicated that remote worker location makes a difference in how they perceive security. Twenty-two percent said they prefer to think of their staff working from home, while 16% said working from a hotel business centre is also acceptable. But coffee shops, airports, public libraries and wireless hot spots were low on IT managers' lists of acceptable places from which to access the network. Between 6% and 9% said those other locations were acceptable. Less than 2% thought that working from a wired beach, pool or stadium would be OK.

Along with gauging IT's perception of remote workers, the survey found that many companies aren't properly prepping the network for secure remote access. It discovered that only 23% have antivirus software installed on remote computers and laptops, 16% offer SSL VPN connections, 14% have an IPsec connection, and 9% are unaware whether there is security in place for the remote workforce. In addition, a mere 34% of managers said they were confident that their organisations had disaster preparation and recovery policies that include remote workers, 13% of them didn't know, 27% had no disaster plan, and 27% had a disaster plan that didn't include remote workers.

And when it comes to productivity, managers and remote workers are divided. Comparing the recent survey results with a survey of remote workers from March 2006, it is clear that users and managers have different perceptions of productivity. In last year's survey, 76% of employees said working remotely increased their productivity, and 61% suggested that their managers agreed with them. The recent survey found, however, that 34% of managers thought remote workers were more productive than their in-office peers, 29% felt there was no difference in the level of productivity between working remotely or in the office, and 21% said remote workers were actually less effective.