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

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