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The Trustwave Blog empowers information security professionals to achieve new heights through expert insight that addresses hot topics, trends and challenges and defines best practices.

If We’re All Working From Home Because Of COVID-19, Who’s Securing The Office?

As this period of global lockdown drags on, and the reality dawns that we are not going to be back in the office anytime soon, it’s time to think about that yogurt someone left in the office fridge, the fish tank behind reception — and most importantly, the physical security of your workplace. 

In all likelihood we are in for a pretty unpleasant clean up on the flip side of this, and whilst there’s plenty of coverage on the cyber risks of working from home, there is a much more pressing issue that many organizations haven’t given any thought to.

In now empty offices, there are a slew of devices with blinky lights, whirring away quietly. Printers, switches, routers, servers, monitors, NAS devices, meeting room displays, VC equipment, smart displays, TV’s…. you name it. All of them are consuming power — but more importantly, all of them may now be a flight risk.

There is no gentle way to put this, but as the number of unemployed people rises sharply, it’s a given that the incentives to commit crime will increase. If your organization is forced to make people redundant, there is a chance that some of them will be aggrieved and may seek to use their knowledge of your organization to embarrass or defraud you.

So just how secure is your office physically right now? Could someone let themselves in and help themselves to anything lying around, or worse steal information by hacking away from the inside of your office at their leisure?

Empty Offices = Prime Targets

We have already seen several stores around the world boarding up windows in anticipation of possible looting, but how many of us have considered the risk to our now empty offices?

As someone who has broken in to several physical offices (as part of a legitimate security test), I can tell you it’s surprisingly easy, and that the biggest challenge is often, not in actually gaining access, but the risk of, and frankly the fear of being seen and challenged in the process.  That risk dynamic has just changed, because the chances of being seen and challenged have seriously diminished.  Furthermore, the likely time between a break in, and it being subsequently discovered and reported has also increased, meaning that the chance of being caught has also reduced.

Photo Source: Raspberry Pi 3 B+, CC

One method we regularly employ is to gain entry to an office and locate the server room before connecting a small cheap discrete device that looks innocuous but allows us to connect remotely over a 4G modem, and hack away at the internal network from the comfort of our own home.

That said, a far more likely scenario is that someone who is able to gain access to your office will be looking to steal anything they can carry easily, and sell for the highest return, and so laptops and Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices are ideal targets. Because both potentially have much higher value to your organization from an information perspective, they should be of particular concern.

Your Office Security Best Practices Checklist

So here are some of my tips on addressing these risks. Remember to ensure that where this necessitates a trip in to the office, you understand your local laws on what is considered essential, and take care of yourself, wash/sanitize your hands etc.

Review the physical security of your office

    • Who is monitoring the security of your offices?
    • What happens when an alarm is tripped?
    • Understand the process, and ensure an alert does not go to someone who left the organization in 2011 etc.
    • Can it be locked down more securely – i.e., access restricted to particular staff only?
    • Are alarms engaged and working and are they configured to alert during office hours?
    • Speak to building management. Can additional controls be placed on floor access? What additional steps have they taken to secure the building, i.e. making sure access to the lobby is on weekend mode if possible?
    • Are CCTV Systems working and monitored?

Review the physical security of your comms room

    • Consider adding a physical lock and restrict access to specific people.
    • Relocate anything sensitive, or valuable to the comms room, or a secure location such as:

      1. New equipment
      2. Unused laptops and desktops
      3. NAS devices
      4. V/C equipment
      5. Boardroom tablets
      6. Displays
      7. Projectors

Check the physical security of your office network

    • Disable unused ports
    • Disable unused WIFI Networks or AP’s
    • Power off any non-critical servers or Infrastructure
    • Shut down non-essential services

Limit the risk of data exposure

    • Remove sensitive documents from desks/workspaces
    • Remove uncollected print jobs from printers and power printers off
    • Ensure under desk pedestals are locked (If Possible)

Don’t forget the flora and fauna.

    • Make sure you have cancelled regular deliveries
    • Make sure that no one is growing penicillin in the office fridge
    • Don’t forget to water the plants, or where possible move them to a balcony
    • If you have an office aquarium, or some other exotic installation that needs maintaining, you may need to come up with a contingency plan.
    • In many cases office plants and aquariums are supplied and maintained by a third party, who will no longer have access. Understand the implications of this before you get hit with a hefty bill at the end of this.

Remember to capitalize on lessons learned, by updating your business continuity plan (BCP) where salient.

With a breadth of experience, Trustwave can help you secure your operations to help you meet the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about how Trustwave can help here.

Eric Pinkerton is Director, Consulting & Professional Services (Pacific)