As workers go remote, security risks go with them

Apr 19, 2021

By Saleel Awsare

This past year will be remembered for many things, and chief among them is the impact it has had on how we work. Remote and mobile working has become a new reality for most office workers who don’t need to physically collaborate or perform direct customer facing activities. The on-line hiring firm Upwork did some research recently that revealed 42.8% of the American workforce remains fully remote, and HR and managers believe that 26.7% of the workforce will continue to be fully remote in one year.

Whether or not that trend remains permanent is a matter of debate, but one thing is certain: the current workplace transformation has underscored the need for even better security processes and technology.

With the majority of workers doing their jobs outside the security perimeter of the traditional corporate office, IT professional are even more conscious of the risk of a wider category of attacks. And with more people logging in to corporate networks off the physical premises of workplaces it has made enterprise and institutional data centers more vulnerable as well. A recent survey showed that 20% of IT security pros have had to deal with a security threat as a direct result of a remote worker, and other research points to user end-points as being the biggest security vulnerability.

Of course, anti-virus and security monitoring software are important tools to help protect companies and their employees during this transition. But at this new level of risk, security experts realize they must take system approach to defense in depth, from the user, to the peripheral devices in the PC, to the CPU.

Balancing effectiveness with effortless

Most everyone acknowledge that security is critical, but at what cost, particularly to individual users. Good security practices can often be seen as intrusive and expensive. There are the hard costs of all the various software and hardware technology at our disposal, to better secure devices, networks and data. But then there is the ‘soft cost’ of the user experience and, when it comes to security, that can often mean the perceived inconvenience and downright frustration with navigating your way through various security protocols.

Passwords are a well-known security tool, but, on top of being forgettable, by themselves are not sufficiently capable of the needed protections. So many organizations have moved to multi-factor authentication. Users and security pros alike complain that it is complicated or unreliable, and thus an impediment to productivity.

Synaptics has been a leader in enabling a more physical layer approach to security that is both effortless and reliable: using unique biometric data—a simple touch of a finger, for example. We have seen that it’s proven to be a far lower barrier to use for workers as it is relatively effortless, and if implemented correctly, a virtually seamless experience.

Synaptics has a range of innovative fingerprint solutions that combine secure biometrics and advanced encryption. This involves expertise in both electrical design for optimal security and mechanical design for simplifying the user experience.

Part of that ease of use is making biometrics a well-integrated aspect of the industrial design of the device. Synaptics’ Selene family of fingerprint sensors is the perfect match here as recognized recently by Lenovo in this press release. Our highly secure match-in-sensor technology was designed into an industry-first and elegant oval shaped power button in this case, but would be equally at home on the side of the laptop so that when docked, the user does not need to open the lid.

A touch of the finger is effortless, but even that has risks that must be considered. For example, sensors with high depth of field and backed by anti-spoofing AI-based neural networks are needed to address authenticity concerns that can result from ‘lifted’ fingerprints. To prevent potential risk further down into the PC (e.g. malware that could intercept the user authentication data), the sensor must analyze the fingerprint data internally on-chip and send only a simple yes or no to the host OS. The match is performed entirely within the fingerprint sensor to completely isolate user authentication from possible attacks by malware infecting the host device. This is what Synaptics calls “match-in-sensor” technology and we have been refining it for several years now.

As a result, the fingerprint module must include a tiny microcontroller and memory, and the software that analyzes the finger must run on that, not on the more vulnerable operating system.

On top of that, firmware updates must be secure as well and we include a hardware root of trust inside the controller IC. This special hardware stores boot code, security keys, and device ID in a tamper-resistant memory, ensuring the user can trust not just updates, but the code and keys that authenticate them.

We look further into the need for device security in the evolving workplace in our recent post in Forbes. Check it out here.

Our focus is on delivering the the highest levels of security, ease of use, and cost efficiency for securing companies and their workers from risks. Most of the world’s top device makers incorporate our security solutions into their laptops, notebooks and peripherals. For more information on our biometrics solutions, go here.

About the Author


Saleel Awsare
Senior Vice President and General Manager, PC & Peripherals Division

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