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U.S. Cybersecurity Agency Releases Guidance for Remote Users

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has released the final Trusted Internet Connections 3.0 Remote User Use Case, which gives federal agencies guidance on applying network and multi-boundary security for remote users.

A remote user is a user who is operating a hardware device or accessing software from an off-site location, such as working from home, telecommuting from a non-agency-controlled location or connecting from a hotel, the guidance states.

Remote devices are those that are not directly connected to agency network infrastructure as well as personal or BYOD-approved devices used by personnel from remote locations or from agency offices, but connecting by an alternative method (cellular) to an internal agency network.

The guidance covers secure remote user access to an agency campus to agency-sanctioned cloud services and to untrusted web resources. It describes four new security capabilities:

  • User awareness and training: Agencies should ensure that users understand the security requirements for devices and networks not managed by the agency, including using backups to prevent data loss if the agency does not automatically back up remote devices. Phishing training may need to be stepped up.
  • Domain name monitoring: Agencies should monitor for subdomains created under their agency domains and watch for domain squatting, which could be used as part of a phishing attack.
  • Application container: Putting applications that run on remote user devices in containers may limit access to agency services and data.
  • Remote desktop access: Whether provided as a direct service or in combination with a VPN, remote desktop access should feature secure protocols and use strong authentication, especially if the remote desktop access is made available as a direct service. Gateways or bastion hosts can help prevent direct remote access to desktop instances, and agencies should prevent local file saving and peripheral use.

CISA said it expects the guidance to evolve to reflect technological advancements, changes in threats, and the lessons learned to help ensure its usefulness to federal agencies. The new guidance incorporates comments received on the draft guidance issued in December 2020. The 70-plus comments CISA received asked for more clarification on sending telemetry data and the application of specific security capabilities.

Commenters also suggested adjusting the use case to focus more on zero trust. CISA said it will coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Chief Information Security Officer Council on potentially developing a zero-trust use case.

CISA works with partners to defend against today’s threats and collaborates to build a more secure and resilient infrastructure for the future. Programmes and services the agency provides are driven by our comprehensive understanding of the risk environment and the corresponding needs identified by the stakeholders.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, CISA has also published a fact sheet to help public- and private-sector organisations prevent and respond to ransomware attackers threatening to release sensitive information if a victim does not pay the ransom demanded.

Ransomware is malware designed to encrypt files on a device, rendering files and the systems that rely on them unusable. Traditionally, malicious actors demand ransom in exchange for decryption. Over time, malicious actors have adjusted their ransomware tactics to be more destructive and impactful.

Malicious actors increasingly exfiltrate data and then threaten to sell or leak it—including sensitive or personal information—if the ransom is not paid. These data breaches can cause financial loss to the victim organisation and erode customer trust.

Internet-facing vulnerabilities must be addressed, software updated, devices properly configured and remote-desktop services should be regularly audited. Spam filters and cybersecurity-awareness training will help reduce the risk of successful phishing attacks, and carefully managing privileged accounts and employing multifactor authentication will increase cyber hygiene.

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