Category: Endpoint Security

How To Guide: Tracking and Recovering Laptops

Schools, businesses—everyone—should know how to track, find, recover, or erase a laptop if needed
Light, powerful, and everywhere, laptops are what people use to get work done. Desktop machines have their place, especially for gamers and people doing high-end graphics, but for most of us, a good laptop is the choice. Unfortunately the same things that make laptops convenient—light and portable—make them easy targets for thieves.
If you’re like most people, your laptop contains more than just emails or documents—it contains your life. Your personal life, your school life, your business life—all on something that can be slipped into a shopping bag. Keeping your laptop and your data safe means more than keeping it from getting stolen, you need to plan for the worse case with solutions designed to track, find, and, if needed, erase a laptop that goes missing.
This guide gives you an overview of the issues at stake, industry-specific challenges, and proactive solutions to prevent and take the sting out of a missing laptop.
The data is worth more than the laptop
Laptops are stolen all the time; it’s a sad fact of life. Even if the person stealing the laptop is just out to sell it for cash, it doesn’t mean the data on it is safe. Because the chances of getting a laptop back are remote—98% of stolen laptops without tracking software are never recovered—protecting the data on the machine is the end goal here. If you can’t find the laptop, you can still protect the data on the machine. Protecting data on a laptop comes down to three basic steps:

Backup your laptop regularly. Local disk or the cloud doesn’t matter, you need other copies of your data.
Have a password on your laptop and use full disk encryption. It’s not 100% foolproof for keeping a thief out of your laptop, but it doesn’t hurt either.
Install laptop tracking/theft recovery software. Something you can use to remotely find a laptop when it goes missing.

Before digging into the hows of laptop tracking and protecting, let’s talk about the whys first.
Real consequences, real money, real headaches
Across industry, there are real monetary penalties for breaching consumer privacy. In healthcare for example, governments take losing patient data very seriously and punish companies who don’t protect patient data severely. In 2016, two companies in the U.S. were fined a total of $5.4 million for losing patient data and violating HIPAA rules. In both cases the data loss was from a single stolen laptop.
Let that sink in for a moment. A single laptop, maybe $3000 brand new, cost one company $1.55 million and another $3.9 million because they didn’t secure them (data on the laptops weren’t encrypted and in one case didn’t even have a password). Who knows how much the stolen data went for on the black market, but for these two companies, the results were devastating.
Even if you aren’t a regulated business, the consequences of a data breach or hack can be devastating. Consider 60% of small to mid-sized businesses fail within 6 months of a hack or data breach. A sobering stat to consider as you read the rest of this guide.
Unique challenges for different businesses
At its core, tracking and locating lost and stolen laptops is the same for all businesses—find and recover the laptop or erase it (or in our case both). However, businesses like healthcare, education, remote/distributed teams, and businesses that depend on extensive employee travel have unique considerations to consider. Absolute has solutions tailored to each of these segments that all do one thing—help businesses protect their data and their customers.
Thieves target healthcare
Healthcare is one of the most targeted industries for data theft and the leading culprits are laptops and other portable devices. While the industry is getting better at tracking and monitoring for data breaches, the healthcare sector lags behind many other sectors. This gap makes healthcare an attractive target for attackers. Why attack a bank with layers of security, when you can look for hospitals and clinics where reams of personal data are readily available with very little security.
Learn about Absolute solutions tailored to healthcare including managing regulatory requirements like HIPAA.
Digital schools present new challenges
Schools—elementary, secondary, and post-secondary—are challenging environments for managing laptops (and other portable devices). Because schools are often chaotic places, schools have become targets for laptop thieves. Part of the solution is helping kids understand how they can keep their devices safe. Laptop Safety 101 puts simple tips in the hands of kids—and parents and teachers—for how to keep laptops from wandering away on their own. These 10 laptop safety tips are aimed at kids, but they are worth everyone remembering:

Never leave your laptop unattended
Keep your laptop in a secure, hidden place
Lock doors and windows when you’re not in your room
Use a discreet laptop case
Never leave your laptop in your vehicle
Purchase a Laptop Theft Recovery Solution like Absolute Home and Office
Personalize your laptop’s look—make it distinctive
Write down your laptop’s serial number and save it somewhere safe
Put a password on your laptop and change it regularly
If someone tries to take your laptop, give it up – it can be replaced…you can’t

Unlike a business where an employee might have the same laptop for years, schools usually require  devices to be returned at the end of a school year for the next year. They also need to encourage responsibility and tips for what to do over holidays and long breaks. Schools have their work cut out for them, but a dose of education and tailored school solutions from Absolute can make managing school laptops a little less chaotic.
Remote workforces an emerging issue
When employees have laptops at home, new issues arise. Solutions like Absolute Reach and Absolute Resilience manage remote devices by automating software inventories, application updates and policy enforcement whether the device is on or off the corporate network. Employees can’t accidentally disable the VPN or other core security protections. Absolute provides the industry’s only tamper-proof endpoint visibility and control solution because it is already embedded within the firmware of most laptop manufacturers, including Dell, HP, Lenovo and 26 others.
Remote and distributed teams aren’t just increasing, they are becoming the norm. Knowing how to manage associated risks is crucial. For more tips on managing IT risk with remote employees, read our post on data security challenges with remote workforces.
Managing business travel risks
The thing about laptops is they are portable. Which is why we take them with us. Which is why business travelers were some of the earliest laptop users. But traveling with laptops has always been a risk to businesses. Laptops are stolen from airports and hotels, they are left in cabs, and hacked via dodgy coffee shop wi-fi. All of these are real risks we still face today. And don’t forget personal travel—employees need to be careful what data comes with them when they take a vacation too.
Managing business travel risks are no different than managing remote workers or even kids taking laptops home from school. It all comes down to:

Education
Planning
Software

What to do if your laptop is lost or stolen
If your laptop does go missing there are a few things you can do right away to help recover it. From the tips above, having the serial number and identifying information handy will help police locate your device if it shows up somewhere—and here’s how to avoid buying a stolen laptop by accident. Our security experts have written two posts on what to do if your laptop is stolen:

Lost or stolen devices: What to do in 4 steps
How to protect your data if your laptop is lost or stolen

How Absolute solutions help you protect your data—even if you can’t recover the laptop
Absolute has an entire group dedicated to working with law enforcement to find and return stolen laptops. Using a direct, two-way connection between the Absolute solution and the laptop, our laptop tracker solutions don’t only try to locate your laptop, they help customers remotely erase their data through their security console. Part of feeling secure when your laptop goes missing isn’t just about laptop recovery, it’s knowing that whatever personal data is on there isn’t going to fall into the wrong hands.
This peace of mind is essential for everyone—regardless if it’s a personal laptop, school laptop, or a company-owned machine—if your data is safe (safely gone) you are safe.
Absolute Resilience is more than remote device management—it includes automated, self-healing tools and people who specialize in recovering laptops. And if they can’t, you can make any data on the machine unusable.
Learn more about  Absolute Resilience and Absolute Home & Office solutions for the Enterprise and consumers.

The Need for Endpoint Resilience in the Public Sector has Never Been Higher

Regardless of an organization’s industry, size or geography, the challenges behind getting work done today look remarkably similar. COVID-19 has forced a massive, global remote workforce and all businesses are being asked to operate in a new way, despite their level of preparedness to do so. Regardless of sector – private or public, IT teams are now wading through the same challenges – securely standing up a remote workforce; ensuring those employees have access to the apps, data and intelligence they need to be productive; monitoring, managing and measuring the health and resilience of those endpoints.
This is true for federal agencies too, with droves of employees now working from home on networks that may or may not be secure. Reports say more than 53,000 Social Security Administration workers are now home-based and have access to very sensitive data. An association representing the works say productivity has gone up during this time and the agency has been able to lower the backlog of cases, indicating more work from home could be in their future.
Melissa Palmer, Vice President, Federal Sales
But many government agency employees do not work from home including Defense, Homeland Security, the State Department, the US Postal Service and others. This means Federal IT and security teams are grappling with new and distinct challenges of a hybrid workforce. To help government agencies maintain persistent visibility and control over their endpoints and protect sensitive data, Absolute is pleased to welcome Melissa Palmer to the team as Vice President of Federal Sales.
An award-winning IT professional based inside the Beltway, Melissa has deep expertise in the technologies that drive secure government work. She has spent more than 15 years solving problems and creating opportunities within the public sector for infosec brands including VMware, McAfee, Looking Glass and Red Hat. To find out more about the unique challenges IT faces inside the public sector, we sat down with Melissa for a quick conversation.
Q: How are public sector IT teams managing the current landscape?
A: Very few people inside the federal government work from home traditionally – most are used to working in a government facility and sometimes even a classified environment. The pandemic has forced most people into a remote work situation and, as in every other industry, everyone hopes their endpoint security is working. But it is not uncommon for federal agencies to have classified data security issues; this is nothing new. There are air-gapped networks established to prevent classified data from landing somewhere it shouldn’t. The trouble with today is everything is magnified; there are more devices on the move, not to mention applications to manage and secure in new ways.
Q: Outside of COVID-19, what’s the biggest challenge federal agencies face when it comes to securing endpoints?
A: There are many, but one example top of mind is traveling employees and forward deployed troops. Ultimately, these people have to get the work done, especially if they are in the hot zone. If that work includes their laptop and the security agent isn’t working in the moment, they turn the tools off. Or worse they de-install the control agent. Security just isn’t important enough at that time, its all about completing their mission.  Once the moment is over though, the goal would be to get that agent back up and running. But that rarely, if ever happens. Even when the deployment is over and the machine is back “in Garrison”, they rarely get reimaged. IT has little visibility into what’s happening with that laptop; there’s no remote way to ensure the security agents are working or address the problem. Security agents that are broken or have been turned off inadvertently leaves everyone open to malicious threat actors.
Q: Failing, broken security agents are a problem for the public sector then, too?
A: Absolutely. Everyone knows data protection is critically important and as a result, government agencies have layered on many security tools hoping to solve the security problem. But those agents collide with each other. They fail. They degrade over time. They also cost quite a bit. The solution to the security problem set doesn’t have to be more. Instead, why not make their existing tools more resilient? New Absolute research shows sensitive data on enterprise devices has risen 43 percent since the COVID outbreak began. Think about the volume of sensitive data sitting on federal workers’ machines right now and the risks we all face as a result.
Always on, always working security means you’re maximizing 100 percent of what gets the job done for you rather than a lesser percentage of more tools than you know what to do with. Removing some of what doesn’t work for you also means reduced spend and a boost in an individual machine’s efficiency. And Absolute is already embedded in the firmware of Dell, HP, Lenovo and 22 other leading manufacturers.  In this way, federal workers and our military deployed troops have more time to perform their critical duties rather than worry about the performance and or security of their devices. It’s time to enable them with undeletable defense.
What are your federal IT teams doing to protect endpoint devices in the new work from home landscape? Have you started planning your workers return to the office and what that will look like? How can you gain improved visibility into the health of your endpoints, better secure your data, and make your device fleet more resilient? If you’re in federal IT, consider reaching out or drop Melissa a line. We’d love to hear how you’re managing today and what you’re plans are for the future. mpalmer@absolute.com
If you’d like to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on remote work, visit our new Resource Center.

3 Actions Education Administrators Can Take Now to Save Time Managing Online Learning Programs

More than 1 billion students around the globe have been impacted by COVID-19. Forced to now learn from home, students of all ages need access to bandwidth, learning devices, applications and more to continue their education in today’s new remote learning environment. This places significant pressure on educators, administrators and specifically, IT leaders to ensure both students and educators have the tools they need.
Some schools had an early start on the online learning front before the pandemic with one-to-one computing programs or device take home programs already in place. While they may have had a slight advantage when learn-from-home was first instituted, every school now faces the same uphill climb. How can you ensure students and teachers have the right tools they need to maximize their learning? What should users do when something breaks? (They can’t after all walk it down to your office for repairs or updates and field IT teams can’t visit classrooms.) And, how can IT teams be sure everyone is using the provided tools for maximum ROI and productivity?
Also Read: Six Things to Do Now to Prepare for Remote Learning
3 Time-Saving Actions
Because there are never enough hours in the day for the small IT teams that serve school districts, time-saving measures for managing your online learning program efficiently are key. We’ve compiled three actions you can take today that will provide great benefits in the months to come.

Activate web usage and device usage analytics. According to recent education insights from Absolute, approximately 40% of the time spent online by students is dedicated to learning including learning management systems and other educational tools. Absolute customers rely on Web Usage so that school leadership and curriculum designers can measure how engaged students are with online curriculum. The reporting provides detailed insight that allows you to drive better learning outcomes by identifying valuable or underused learning resources and direct students toward them. The tool also shows you habits and websites that aren’t student appropriate so you can protect the safety of your students online. You can also compare classes, schools and districts to help you build a budgetary plan for the future.

 

Adopt Absolute’s device collection guide. COVID-19 forced a new normal on schools and now, many are still deciding what to do when the end of the school year comes. Some are allowing students to keep their devices over the summer, or even until the student graduates. Others are requesting they be returned to the school before summer break. Regardless, schools are making the decision most appropriate for their district. Absolute has a step-by-step guide with best practices based on years of working with K12 districts on collecting devices at the end of the school year. It includes how to plan, execute, collect, control and monitor your student devices throughout their lifecycle so you can reclaim student devices with ease.

 

Use Reach scripts for remote IT and helpdesk needs. Not only are devices remote, but so is the IT team responsible for managing these devices. With remote learning, IT teams need to continue to address device IT issues and ensure they are protected against cyber threats. Absolute Reach is a remote scripting solution for Windows and Mac devices that allows you to scan, secure, and enforce updates and configurations even when the device is off your network. Using 120+ prebuilt, automated workflows, you can manage remote devices at scale and resolve issues from the more traditional helpdesk tickets. There’s also a device collection notice script that can be used to notify end users of the key collection information so they can return their device.

To support Absolute education customers through these challenging times, we’ve enabled all customers to access crucial Absolute features at no added cost through August 31, 2020:

Web Usage for insights on student online learning Absolute Reach, our remote scripting solution
Application Persistence for 3 of the most widely-used VPNs apps

Visit our Remote Work & Distance Learning Resource Center for more details.
If you would like more tips on how to save time managing your online learning, listen in to our webinar, 3 Immediate Actions to Save Time While Managing Online Learning.

How-To Guide: Tracking and Recovering Laptops

Schools, businesses—everyone—should know how to track, find, recover, or erase a laptop if needed
Light, powerful, and everywhere, laptops are what people use to get work done. Desktop machines have their place, especially for gamers and people doing high-end graphics, but for most of us, a good laptop is the choice. Unfortunately the same things that make laptops convenient—light and portable—make them easy targets for thieves.
If you’re like most people, your laptop contains more than just emails or documents—it contains your life. Your personal life, your school life, your business life—all on something that can be slipped into a shopping bag. Keeping your laptop and your data safe means more than keeping it from getting stolen, you need to plan for the worse case with solutions designed to track, find, and, if needed, erase a laptop that goes missing.
This guide gives you an overview of the issues at stake, industry-specific challenges, and proactive solutions to prevent and take the sting out of a missing laptop.
The data is worth more than the laptop
When a laptop is stolen, often the target isn’t the laptop, it’s the data inside the laptop that thieves are after. Thieves targeting businesses and healthcare, couldn’t care less about the machine itself. The few hundred dollars they could sell it for pales in comparison to the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars they could sell the data for. Information like names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, and other personal data is used for identity theft, fraud, and scams is gold to hackers and scammers.
Because the chances of getting a laptop back are remote—98% of stolen laptops are never recovered—protecting the data on the machine is the end goal here. If you can’t find the laptop, you can still protect the data on the machine. Protecting data on a laptop comes down to three basic steps:

Backup your laptop regularly. Local disk or the cloud doesn’t matter, you need other copies of your data.
Have a password on your laptop and use full disk encryption. It’s not 100% foolproof for keeping a thief out of your laptop, but it doesn’t hurt either.
Install laptop tracking/theft recovery software. Something you can use to remotely find a laptop when it goes missing.

Before digging into the hows of laptop tracking and protecting, let’s talk about the whys first.
Real consequences, real money, real headaches
Across industry, there are real monetary penalties for breaching consumer privacy. In healthcare for example, governments take losing patient data very seriously and punish companies who don’t protect patient data severely. In 2016, two companies in the U.S. were fined a total of $5.4 million for losing patient data and violating HIPAA rules. In both cases the data loss was from a single stolen laptop.
Let that sink in for a moment. A single laptop, maybe $3000 brand new, cost one company $1.55 million and another $3.9 million because they didn’t secure them (data on the laptops weren’t encrypted and in one case didn’t even have a password). Who knows how much the stolen data went for on the black market, but for these two companies, the results were devastating.
Even if you aren’t a regulated business, the consequences of a data breach or hack can be devastating. Consider 60% of small to mid-sized businesses fail within 6 months of a hack or data breach. A sobering stat to consider as you read the rest of this guide.
Unique challenges for different businesses
At its core, tracking and locating lost and stolen laptops is the same for all businesses—find and recover the laptop or erase it. However, businesses like healthcare, education, remote/distributed teams, and businesses that depend on extensive employee travel have unique considerations to consider. Absolute has solutions tailored to each of these segments that all do one thing—help businesses protect their data and their customers.
Thieves target healthcare
Healthcare is one of the most targeted industries for data theft and the leading culprit—laptops and other portable devices. While the industry is getting better at tracking and monitoring for data breaches, the healthcare sector lags behind many other sectors. This gap makes healthcare an attractive target for attackers. Why attack a bank with layers of security, when you can look for hospitals and clinics where reams of personal data are readily available with very little security.
Learn about Absolute solutions tailored to healthcare including managing regulatory requirements like HIPAA.
Digital schools present new challenges
Schools—elementary, secondary, and post-secondary—are challenging environments for managing laptops (and other portable devices). Because schools are often chaotic places, schools have become targets for laptop thieves—even inside the schools themselves. Part of the solution is helping kids understand how they can keep their devices safe. Laptop Safety 101 puts simple tips in the hands of kids—and parents and teachers—for how to keep laptops from wandering away on their own. These 10 laptop safety tips are aimed at kids, but they are worth everyone remembering:

Never leave your laptop unattended
Keep your laptop in a secure, hidden place
Lock doors and windows when you’re not in your room
Use a discreet laptop case
Never leave your laptop in your vehicle
Purchase a Laptop Theft Recovery Solution like Absolute Home and Office
Personalize your laptop’s look—make it distinctive
Write down your laptop’s serial number and save it somewhere safe
Put a password on your laptop and change it regularly
If someone tries to take your laptop, give it up – it can be replaced…you can’t

Unlike a business where an employee might have the same laptop for years, schools usually require  devices to be returned at the end of a school year for the next year. They also need to encourage responsibility and tips for what to do over holidays and long breaks. Schools have their work cut out for them, but a dose of education and tailored school solutions from Absolute can make managing school laptops a little less chaotic.
Remote workforces an emerging issue
When employees have laptops at home, new issues arise. Solutions like Absolute Reach and Absolute Resilience manage remote devices by automating software inventories, application updates and policy enforcement whether the device is on or off the corporate network. Employees can’t accidentally disable the VPN or other core security protections. Absolute provides the industry’s only tamper-proof endpoint visibility and control solution because it is already embedded within the firmware of most laptop manufacturers, including Dell, HP, Lenovo and 26 others.
Remote and distributed teams aren’t just increasing, they are becoming the norm. Knowing how to manage associated risks is crucial. For more tips on managing IT risk with remote employees, read our post on data security challenges with remote workforces.
Managing business travel risks
The thing about laptops is they are portable. Which is why we take them with us. Which is why business travelers were some of the earliest laptop users. But traveling with laptops has always been a risk to businesses. Laptops are stolen from airports and hotels, they are left in cabs, and hacked via dodgy coffee shop wi-fi. All of these are real risks we still face today. And don’t forget personal travel—employees need to be careful what data comes with them when they take a vacation too.
Managing business travel risks are no different than managing remote workers or even kids taking laptops home from school. It all comes down to:

Education
Planning
Software

 
What to do if your laptop is lost or stolen
If your laptop does go missing there are a few things you can do right away to help recover it. From the tips above, having the serial number and identifying information handy will help police locate your device if it shows up somewhere—and here’s how to avoid buying a stolen laptop by accident. Solutions like Apple’s Find my Device can help—if you’ve set them up ahead of time. Our security experts have written two posts on what to do if your laptop is stolen:

Lost or stolen devices: What to do in 4 steps
How to protect your data if your laptop is lost or stolen

 
How Absolute solutions help you protect your data—even if you can’t recover the laptop
Absolute has an entire group dedicated to working with law enforcement to find and return stolen laptops. Using a direct, two-way connection between the Absolute solution and the laptop, our laptop tracker solutions don’t only try to locate your laptop, they can also remotely erase your data if needed. Part of feeling secure when your laptop goes missing isn’t just about laptop recovery, it’s knowing that whatever personal data is on there isn’t going to fall into the wrong hands.
This peace of mind is essential for everyone—regardless if it’s a personal laptop, school laptop, or a company-owned machine—if your data is safe (safely gone) you are safe.
Absolute Resilience is more than remote device management—it includes automated, self-healing tools and people who specialize in recovering laptops. And if they can’t, you can make any data on the machine unusable.
Learn more about  Absolute Resilience and Absolute Home & Office solutions for the Enterprise and consumers.

COVID-19 Marks Start of Forever-Changed Work and School

Welcome to the new normal. Remote work and distance learning have officially arrived but with it comes some of the more alarming trends we’ve seen since the COVID crisis began. Device usage is up across enterprise and education, but critical security measures are increasingly inactive, missing, or out-of-date. This according to new Absolute Remote Work and Distance Learning Insights Center.
Within a few weeks of the World Health Organization officially declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11th, an estimated 16 million US employees – or nearly one-quarter of the workforce – were sent home and instructed to work remotely while governments around the world implemented widespread school closures impacting over 90 percent of the world’s student population.
Within this new normal of remote work and distance learning, device usage across the enterprise and within education is up significantly compared to pre-COVID according to Absolute’s new Remote Work and Distance Learning Insights Center. By 49 percent within the enterprise and 62 percent in education. Along with the usage uptick, endpoint security gaps across both sectors are also on the rise, putting sensitive data at greater risk, including:
Employee and student device usage continues to rise post-COVID.
The data shows a nearly 50 percent increase in the amount of heavy device usage – 8+ hours per day – seen across enterprise organizations, jumping to an increase of 62 percent seen in heavy education device usage. The average number of hours education endpoint devices are being used daily is also up 27 percent.
Device health sees slight improvement, but patch management continues to plague both enterprise and education IT teams.
The average enterprise endpoint device running Windows 10 continues to be nearly 3 months behind in applying the latest patch, with that delay spiking to more than 180 days since a patch has been applied to the average student Windows 10 device.
Enterprise organizations are at heightened risk of a breach or compliance violation.
One in four enterprise endpoint devices, on average, has a critical security application (Anti-Malware, Encryption, VPN, or Client Management) that is missing, inactive, or out-of-date.
Sensitive data is piling up on enterprise devices.
The data shows a 46 percent increase in the number of pieces of sensitive data – such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or Protected Health Information (PHI) – found to be stored on enterprise endpoints, compared to pre-COVID.
The newly released Remote Work and Distance Learning Insights Center enables enterprises and educational institutions to manage, measure and benchmark the health and security of their remote device programs, pre and post-COVID 19. It represents anonymized data from more than half of Absolute’s nearly 8.5 million activations and will be updated weekly.
Only Absolute can provide total visibility and, with self-healing capabilities, control over your entire device fleet. To learn more about how Absolute customers can more effectively secure and manage both remote work and distance learning environments through a single source of truth, visit our Coronavirus Response Resource Center.

Coronavirus: Keeping Your Company Safe From Cyber Attacks

This article originally appeared in CityAM.
The widespread destruction caused by the Covid-19 outbreak remains difficult to comprehend, with lives lost, businesses destroyed, and communities forced into isolation. Statistics show that even after this terrible disease has been beaten, the economic and social impact will be deep and long lasting, with surging unemployment and shattered dreams brought on by the necessary lockdown measures, preventing many businesses from trading.
We have already seen thousands of promising British start-ups and successful SMEs close their doors for good, and many more employees have been laid off, or placed on the government’s new furlough leave scheme.
Millions of employees working for businesses which have been fortunate enough to continue operations will now be entering the second month of their company’s brand new remote working model. Many are still adjusting to the world of video conferencing calls and cloud-enabled software, in an effort to continue business as usual.
Even those who have made a transition from office-to-home can attest that it hasn’t been easy: training staff on brand new technology via web conferencing service and operating on infrastructure not built for home working are not straightforward tasks.
One key concern which has fallen under the radar during the rush to remote working has been the increased security risk posed to businesses as a result of working from home. Right now, hundreds of companies, government departments and NHS Trusts are ordering in new laptops and tablet computers to enable staff to operate as usual. In many cases this will mean the quick installation of workplace software and apps, with employees often using personal home devices with outdated software – all of which can pose significant security risks.
Unfortunately, opportunistic cyber criminals never miss a trick and are already targeting unsuspecting workers with a variety of phishing and malware attacks. Recent polling of 200 UK decision-makers showed that nearly three quarters of companies believe that the shift to 100% remote working during the COVID-19 crisis has increased the likelihood of a cyber breach. What’s more, 46% had already seen an increase in phishing attacks since implementing a policy of widespread remote working.
Combatting this threat requires a concerted effort across all levels of an organisation. Current predictions suggest that workers could be in lockdown for up to six more months, which is too long for businesses to sit idly by, merely hoping that the wave of cybercrime does not affect them (spoiler alert: it will).
The most important step in securing your company in this new age of online operations, is to enable endpoint security on all devices, both old and new. Devices such as laptops and tablets are access points for opportunistic cyber criminals – and they will stop at nothing to steal, corrupt or hijack extremely sensitive company information. Fortunately for them, although many companies have invested hugely in new devices to facilitate online working, they have failed to implement the accompanying required endpoint security.
If an organisation does find itself facing a breach of information, it’s important they can identify the source and take back control. With Absolute Software’s endpoint security, IT Managers, security executives or indeed any line-manager or operating officer can ensure continued visibility and control of endpoints with a firmware based, persistent digital tether to every device. Absolute ensures that this connection is never interrupted even after a full rebuild of the device. The Absolute platform allows an enterprise to gain an insight into all internet connected devices and their current security compliance against company policy as well as lock, freeze, wipe or automatically remediate a device which has been breached, even if rebuilt with a new operating system; effectively allowing business owners to seize control of their ‘device estate’, which has most likely grown exponentially in the past month.
Similarly, it is extremely important that software, such as Zoom or Microsoft, is patched and updated to the newest version at all time, to protect the company from security vulnerabilities, such as Wormable, Zero Day and others. Unfortunately, with the growing role of home devices in businesses during this difficult time, it can be challenging for IT managers to spot outdated and unsecure applications. Enabling a connected endpoint security control network that includes automated workflows can negate this issue by allowing designated managers to swiftly identify problems and accelerate the remote installations of updates, removal of apps, or system upgrades.
COVID-19 is enough for businesses to worry about without the risk of a severe breach of company, client or even employee data. Therefore, key decision makers must ‘batten down the hatches’ with effective security training and sophisticated endpoint security, ensuring they have a comprehensive network of secure devices to combat the wave of cybercrime slowly impacting what remains of British business.
Learn more about how Absolute is helping all customers keep their remote devices secure on our website.

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service Protects Data and Devices with Absolute

Fire crews depend heavily on data when responding to emergencies – just ask the Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS).
To effectively secure their communities and their responding firefighters, the unit relies on Panasonic Toughbook CF-33 devices across its fleet of fire trucks: a fixed Toughbook mounted in the front, and a demountable one in the back. They are used for critical incident communication back to the Control Room, as well as essential risk information when responding to incidents such as vehicle schematics, chemical and hazardous materials databases, water supplies, survey mapping, essential operational information and more.
DWFRS has 50 fire stations serving local communities in the counties of Dorset and Wiltshire, England and crews are available to respond to emergency calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Devices used to support emergency response proved hard to track, however, and there was always risk of theft or unintended loss. For effective and secure emergency response, DWFRS knew they needed to protect not only their devices but also the valuable and sensitive data that resides on those devices.
Already There, Always On Absolute Persistence
“For me, deploying Absolute is about assurance. I don’t have to worry. I get alerts when a device leaves a boundary and alerts if someone is using too much data on hard drive. Absolute lets me report back that if we are ever in a situation, I have the confidence that I can remote freeze it,” said Daniel Grew, Mobile Data Technology Manager at DWFRS.
Absolute’s patented Persistence technology provides DWFRS with a single source of truth for the protection of their life-saving devices and the sensitive data that resides on them. And because Absolute was already embedded in the BIOS of the Panasonic Toughbooks that DWFRS firefighters were using, activation and time to value were quick.
“The real difference for me was that Absolute’s Persistence technology cannot be uninstalled.  If a device is lost and someone tries to wipe the operating system and install a new one, Absolute reinstalls itself. I can track and freeze every device no matter what happens to it,” said Grew.
For more on how DWFRS secures their mobile devices during emergency response, download the full case study.
 

Trust But Verify: Automated Solutions Keep Remote Employees Productive and Secure

How endpoint management keeps employees secure and helps IT rest easy
As our work from home “experiment” drags on, IT is probably wondering how all those laptops are doing. Are OS updates getting done? Have people messed up their VPN settings, or worse do they think their VPN settings are okay, but have they been tampered with? What about installing apps? Visiting suspect sites? People aren’t behind the firewall most of the time, so the usual filters and blocks aren’t there to protect people (and the network).
This could become a real IT disaster in the making. There is a solution, and as Reagan said: Trust, but verify.
Trust your employees, but not blindly
One of the biggest challenges for making working from home work is building trust. I touched on trust in my last post on leading IT teams remotely. The twice daily update meetings and über project dashboard so everyone could see what was going on. It took a while for everyone to trust people we’re working in place and not Netflixing in place.
In the office, it’s easy to trust that people aren’t going to install software willy-nilly. There is a certain amount of “everyone is watching” that keeps things in check. At home is another matter. Left to our own devices or left to troubleshoot problems ourselves—“oh I can fix that glitch no problem…”—everyone can get into trouble.
Here’s where the “verify” part comes in.
Proactive protection solutions for remote employees
One of the biggest challenges of remote work is making sure everyone keeps their computers up to date and secure. From OS updates to VPN settings, and app restrictions to malware protection, maintenance tasks that are simple while everyone is connected to the company network become cumbersome when employees pop on and off your VPN and go on and offline seemingly randomly. Even the most well-meaning and tech savvy people forget to run system updates.
The last update security update for MacOS didn’t get installed on my personal machine right away. I got the prompt to install it, but “oh jeez I have to restart and I have to get this thing done right now, I’ll do it tomorrow…” “Tomorrow” became over a week. Thankfully nothing bad happened because I ignored an update for a while—but it could have. OS updates are just part of the puzzle. What about making sure virus scans haven’t been disabled? What about someone accidentally messing up their VPN settings (hey it happens to all of us once in a while)? How do you deal with those issues?
Absolute has two solutions for these problems:

Absolute Reach gives IT hundreds of pre-built scripts to push and run on employee machines for regular and critical maintenance
Absolute Application Persistence for VPN ensures everyone is connecting to your network securely with self-healing VPN settings

If you’re an existing Absolute customer, both of these solutions are available at no cost until August 31st. Now is not the time for IT to be worrying if people aren’t keeping their machines secure while at home. IT’s job is hard enough as it is—been there, done that as front line tech support, thank you very much—without wondering if people trying “that fun new app” on their work machine has opened a security hole in the network.
Absolute Reach keeps things in shape
With over 130 scripts available you can make sure patches are applied, security settings are still secure, and policies are still in place. And employees don’t have to be connected to your network for it to work. Absolute extends IT’s reach to help remote employees stay safe and secure—and by extension your company, your network, and your data.

Learn more about Absolute Reach and how current customers can add it for free right now.

Persistence pays off for VPN connections
Your VPN is a critical part securing remote employees—not just when they are working from home, but traveling, at a conference, or any other untrusted network too. Absolute Application Persistence for VPN keeps that VPN set up and configured on every remote machine automatically. You don’t have to worry if someone deletes the VPN because they think that’s why the laptop won’t connect to Wi-Fi. You don’t have to worry if someone accidentally installs some malware or spyware that tries to circumvent, man-in-the-middle, or outright remove VPN settings and replace them with theirs.
Application Persistence for VPN resets, self-heals, and protects the best protection your network has—your VPN.

Learn how Absolute customers can start using Application Persistence for VPN right now.

Business continuity for when business unusual is becoming business as usual
At Absolute we’re all in the same boat you are. These past few weeks have put everything in our lives under stress. Businesses are trying to make the best of things and stay running. Many of us are working from home for the first time and finding it tough to work and be parents. Stress all around and no easy answers for when it will all be over.
We can’t fix the stress everyone is under. Not even close. What we can do though is help with tools and solutions to help businesses keep running and running securely.
Stay safe out there.

5 Tips for Managing a Remote IT Team

Connecting, collaborating, and getting work done isn’t as hard as you think
Around the world offices have emptied and people are working from home—some of them for the first time. Getting the hang of working remotely is one thing, but managing a team is something altogether different. The good thing is if you hired good people, they will step up. All you need to do is keep everyone on the same path. And for that, here are some tips to make managing a remote team easier.
I first started remote working twenty years ago (we called it “telecommuting” back then) and since then about half my jobs have been partially, or completely, remote. I’ve been a team member, a manager, and part of the leadership team. Across all those roles, there are some basic things anyone can do to make managing remote teams easier.
Everything in this post is time-tested and works. And if you think this is going to be a list of “use this app or that app”, you’re wrong. These best tips have nothing to do with which apps to use and everything to do with how you connect people and get things done.
Earlier this year Vancouver was hit with a sizable dump of snow—sizable for us, laughable for people in Eastern Canada—that shut down the city for a few days. My team got an unexpected dose of remote work, and it didn’t go well. The biggest reason is I didn’t follow any of the tips below. Now that we’re all sheltering in place and working from home, I’ve been following all the tips and my team hasn’t just been productive—we’ve had some significant wins.
Here’s how you can lead a successful team remotely—and otherwise.
1. Morning Sync
Take a page from Agile development and do a quick sync with your team every day—preferably first thing in the morning. You don’t have to be too formal about it, just three simple questions for each person:

What did you get done yesterday
What are you going to do today
Do you need help or have blockers from keeping you from getting work done

That’s it. Maybe fifteen minutes to half an hour you’re done and people should feel in sync. If you’re going over 30 minutes, you need to have a separate meeting for whatever the topic is and move on. Repeating what got done the previous day is important, it lets you know how productive people are and identify blockers. If someone says they will work on x, y, and z today, but nothing more than x ever gets done. You have a red flag to check in with that person to see what’s going on.
When I’ve done morning stand ups in person, they helped people feel connected to each other and gave me a chance to make sure everyone is working the right things at the right time.
As an IT manager leading a remote team the best things you can do are:

unblock people
help them prioritize work

Sometimes you’re going to need to help a shared resource—say your single web developer or graphic designer—figure out who to help first, but that’s all in a day’s work for you. Morning standup syncs are the first and easiest way to help your team.
2. Over communicate
However your company or team does it—Slack, Teams, Skype chat—stay in touch all day. Have a group chat with the whole team, chats for project teams, and one on one chats with individual team members. Check in, say hi, ask what’s for lunch, make sure people are taking breaks, be there for your team just like you would in the office.
Don’t forget to have a chat for the fun, silly, water cooler conversations you would have in person. Right now, these connections to each other are essential. A lot of people aren’t able to be with friends or family. It’s hard. Let people chat and connect with each other. You could even have Friday afternoon happy hour to relax at the end of the week. Stay connected as people, friends, and colleagues to help everyone adjust to not being in the office.
The key to keeping your remote team together is helping them feel they are still part of a team and work needs to get done. Do that, and the rest is easy.
3. The 3 minute rule
Chat is great—perfect for staying in touch, sharing files, and giving updates—but sometimes you need to talk it out. When do you need to talk it out? My rule is if it takes more than three minutes to type it out, talk it out. Stop and have a voice or video call to talk in real time.
I was trying to finish off a website today. Getting those little details like “make this bigger, tighten that space, move this over” and after about 10 minutes of trying to type it all out we switched to a voice call and I shared my screen. We hashed things out in a few minutes and made real progress that wasn’t happening through chat alone.
I’ve followed this rule every day for the past few weeks—and so has my team. My web dev guy calls about a CSS or server issue. My writers work through ideas and edits. My boss and I sync on everything from admin tasks to priorities. We might use chat 90% of the time, but it’s the final 10% that makes a difference.
When in doubt pick up the phone and call.
4. Keep it organized
Whatever project management tool you were using before, double down on it. If you had a big whiteboard managing projects in the office, now is the time to try any of the hundreds of online tools available and make the switch. You need people to get organized and always know what’s the next thing they need to do.
A few weeks ago when the executive team called all senior managers in the day before we shut down the office, their biggest concern was “how will we know work is getting done”. My team had already been using a project management tool for a few months and I cranked how we were using it to 11.
I made a composite project of all the projects we were working on. Then I had everyone create tasks for all things they did during the day—even some of the little tasks like “email white paper draft to design”—and the company leadership team could see how things were going and adjust priorities if needed.

Tools make all the difference, learn how Absolute improves helpdesk efficiency with proactive solutions that decrease tickets and mitigate risk. Learn more

For the first week working remotely, I had morning and afternoon syncs to make sure everything was on track. I became hyper organized—truth be told we had a lot of projects on the go too—and this helped everyone know what they needed to do and what other people were doing. This extra effort primed us for the success we’ve had in the past two weeks.
After the first week, we didn’t need twice daily syncs. I didn’t need my über project to show everything we did. The leadership team saw work was getting done and they could cross that worry off their list. A couple weeks in, project management has returned to “normal”. We’re not documenting everything, but we’re keeping on track with the right tools for us.
5. Make time for yourself
You can’t manage your team if you don’t have your work in order. Stay in sync with the people you report to. Follow all the tips above yourself and stay in touch with the rest of the leaders in your company. Maybe you don’t need morning syncs, but maybe it’s not a bad idea either.
If you’re new to managing a remote team, you are going to worry people are playing games or watching TV all day. It’s natural. However, if you have a good team, most of them know what they need to do and want to get the work done. When you have your morning check in you’ll see people are working on the projects they had. People are still working together and making sure the business stays running.
You might find, as many of us have recently, you’re getting more done. Which isn’t a bad thing either.
BONUS TIP – Make sure everyone is working securely
This is a good time to make sure everyone on your team has their VPN set up for secure connections to internal servers. It’s also a good time to watch out for scams—I’ve seen an uptick in spam and phishing attempts lately—because the bad guys seem to be bored and figure people aren’t being as careful as they should be. A lot of people may be using personal machines for work, those people need to be reminded about antivirus and malware scanning. The last thing you need right now is ransomware getting injected into your network when you aren’t there to physically pull the plug on servers.
You might like our Cybersecurity 101 post for some tips and how you can up your company’s cybersecurity game.
A crucial part of keeping everyone secure is having solid endpoint security. Learn about new threats on the landscape and how to mitigate them in our latest research: 2019 The State of Endpoint Security Trends.
Remote work could be the new normal for a while
Let’s accept remote work might become the new normal for a while. Some companies find things are better with a distributed team and have more people work at home at least some of the time. We all might find we’re managing teams in a whole new way with some people in the office, some at home, some doing a mix of both. Shelter-in-place aside, which could go on into the summer, there are hundreds of successful companies with entirely remote workforces and for the rest of us to get a taste of it, can’t be a bad thing.

Automated, Custom Workflows to Manage & Secure a Growing Remote Workforce Now At No Cost

As companies accelerate remote work policies for the health and safety of employees and their families, IT organizations are facing challenges like never before by keeping work PCs safe and secure while ensuring hackers don’t exploit unsuspecting or distracted users. In response, Absolute announced today, the company will provide all customers with free access to its comprehensive library of custom workflows that enable a more seamless, effective way to secure and manage devices.
The most recent example is the remote code execution vulnerability or ‘wormable’ CVE-2020-0796 that carries the potential to propagate itself from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer. While Microsoft moved swiftly to warn Windows 10 users and deliver a security update, the difficulties of patching remote devices that may not be connected to the corporate network, as well the probability of failed updates, present a significant risk of exposure to cyberattacks.
Recent data validates the risk exposure presented by unpatched devices and gaps in security policies or applications. Early findings from our coming 2020 State of Endpoint Resilience Report show that more than half of Windows 10 enterprise devices with versions 1903 and 1909 — those that are susceptible to CVE-2020-0796  — are more than four weeks behind installing patches. This is hugely concerning in light of another recent study that found 60 percent of all breaches are linked to a vulnerability where a patch was available, but not applied.
New Reporting and Reach Scripts
To help our customers keep up in today’s challenging times, we have created new report and reach scripts that enables IT to mitigate this vulnerability by identifying all potentially affected devices and disabling access to targeted servers until the patch is installed. In addition to the workaround for CVE-2020-0796, Absolute customers have access to more than 130 custom workflows that allow them to easily run queries or reports and then take widespread remedial action such as enforcing patch installations, turning on or repairing VPN applications for a secure connection for remote devices, and more, with just a few clicks. Because of Absolute’s unique firmware-embedded position, these actions can be enforced and executed on any device connected to the internet, even if off the corporate network.
In support of IT teams working to ensure business continuity and enable remote employees to reliably and securely connect to corporate systems amid the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, we are providing access to our comprehensive library of custom workflows and Reach scripts for Visibility and Control tier customers at no cost through August 31, 2020.
The silver lining in our current chaotic and uncertain environment is how people across the globe are stepping in to support each other. We’ve seen time and again how organizations are lending help wherever possible and that’s certainly our goal at Absolute. IT desks everywhere are faced with mounting challenges managing and securing more and more devices from relentless cyber-attackers.
This crisis may pose a lot of questions for IT and Security teams. We are monitoring millions of activated devices across our 12,000 customers, and we are continuing to explore every possible way we can provide help to our customers and partners during this trying time. If you have critical endpoint related issues you’re battling in your business – we welcome your input and ideas. Send them our way.
For now, stay well and be safe.

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