Home-Point Cybersecurity: Bring Your Enterprise Home

By on Nov 12, 2020

For more than 20 years, the cybersecurity industry has been focused on enterprises, not on a larger national integrated security environment – and certainly not on comprehensive home security. Smart devices that make home life more convenient have been growing in acceptance and adoption, but by and large, the industry continues to concentrate on enterprise security. Even from a standards perspective, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has focused on enterprises and the federal government, not the home.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework, for example, a highly regarded security framework, is intended  for enterprises, not homes. Yet today, the devices and connectivity in many homes outnumber those in small businesses of 20 years ago. Homes are following along the same path as small businesses, and like them, need more focused attention and protection.

COVID-19 forced organizational change in the blink of an eye, forcing an overnight transition from mostly centralized work environments to a highly distributed work-from-home infrastructure.  This rapid shift to working from unsecured and unmanaged environments (IT, IoT, mobile, cloud, etc.), has greatly complicated organizational cybersecurity exposure challenges while creating a massive expansion of the digital attack surface. With many employees having to use personal devices for business purposes, enterprises now need to consider adopting policies that provide them greater management and control over these personal devices. The security challenge once focused on BYOD (bring your own device) has now morphed into BYEH — “Bring Your Enterprise Home.” We need new security standards and practices to address this shift.

While my company and others had the policies, management processes, controls, equipment and software in place to protect this new corporate ecosystem, they did so with the understanding the home is a very inhospitable security environment at present.

In my own home, for instance, there are many different systems of devices (wireless lighting, smart locks, multiple smart TVs, multiple streaming devices, smart plugs, wireless security system, digital assistants, wireless speakers, cameras, thermostats, and other home management connected devices.  And this is before we add in the computers, laptops, iPads and smart phones for all its residents. An ever-growing number of IoT devices are helping people to transform their houses into smart homes, but homeowners often don’t know how to secure these devices. Additionally, many of the products don’t communicate or integrate with each other, exacerbating the discovery of security weaknesses.

Today, a bad actor can break into a home and steal things of value – bank account, credentials, sanity (by turning smart lights on and off at 3 am and blasting music from connected speakers) – without even physically walking through the door. This is a major problem for individuals, but it’s an even greater problem for enterprises and governments turning to remote work to continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take all of the devices in each home, smart or otherwise, multiplied by all of the federal government employees alone, and you’ll have a vision for how large a threat vector we’ve just created by asking employees to work from home. Then add in government contractors, who may or may not have access to the same level of security as permanent employees.  Then realize this is not just a government problem but a whole-of-nation problem, where businesses and other organizations need to assure their staffs’ remote access to their corporate properties are protected and secure.

Cybersecurity is not the only area we need to address. For example, ISPs often give priority to supporting enterprise customers when there are outages.  Timelines from reporting-to-fix for enterprises is measured in hours, while timelines for correcting consumer outages is quite often measured in days.  Now, however, the lines between what is a remote critical connection and what is not are highly blurred. How does an organization indicate to an ISP that a specific connection needs a critical designation and a priority response? How do we extend the concept of “home-points” being a component in an individual enterprise’s infrastructure?

Relatedly, broadband access and network connection speeds are now more important than ever. It may be time for the Federal Communications Commission to rethink its designation of broadband, as 25/3 Mbps is not really suitable for a family with multiple children engaged in remote learning while Mom and Dad work from home.

The waves of change that COVID-19 has set in motion have turned homes into workspaces, making every connected device in a home a risk to each person’s employer.  Now the home isn’t just a smart home; it’s a remote office, as well as a schoolroom, a doctor’s office and the front door to malls and grocery stores.

As we work to adapt our economy and country in the wake of the pandemic, it’s critical that we also rethink the security of our homes to ensure there are standards for protection in place. Our homes are now part of an enterprise environment. It’s time that we as a nation considered the home as such and adopted policies and security practices to meet the new BYEH reality.

About the Author

Kent Landfield

Kent Landfield has spent 30+ years in software development, global network operations and network security arenas. Currently he is the Chief Standards and Technology Policy Strategist at McAfee. Kent has been extremely active in the NIST Cybersecurity Framework development, participating and presenting in workshops, writing and coordinating responses and providing global policy and educational outreach ...

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