(TNS) — Internet speed, connectivity and capacity are emerging as issues as thousands of employees across the New York State Capital Region are being asked to work from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As private and public sector employers try to reduce exposure to COVID-19, employers and employees are getting firsthand experience on the limitations of today’s technological infrastructure. Those issues include having enough capacity on virtual private networks (VPNs), which enable secure connections between home computers and office servers, protecting employer infrastructure from cyber attacks, and ensuring internet access to rural areas and low-income families.
The state’s Office of Information Technology Services’ service desk on Tuesday confirmed they are dealing with multiple issues related to VPN access for state employees at various departments and agencies. But the agency declined comment regarding the challenges facing the department as tens of thousands of state employees are asked to telecommute.
David Turetsky, a professor of practice at University at Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, said access for employees to work remotely is just one of many risks employers and their workers face when telecommuting.
“I think some businesses aren’t well set up for distant access and distant working,” Turetsky said. “Their employees may or may not be trained, and they may or may not have the cyber-security protections in place that make that safe to do. That’s a risk.”
The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers, Inc., which represents individuals and organizations involved in IT asset management, also cautioned employers on the hazards they might face with employees working remotely.
“We always say that you can’t manage what you don’t know about and that is going to be a truth with nightmare consequences for many companies and government agencies struggling to respond to the coronavirus situation,” said Barbara Rembiesa, president and CEO of the association. “The impulse to send employees home to work is understandable, but companies and agencies without business continuity plans with a strong IT asset management component are going to be sitting ducks for breaches, hacking and data that is out there in the wild beyond the control of the company.”
Indeed, users have been cautioned to be wary of potential phishing scams as some people take advantage of the worldwide pandemic. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department also was the victim of a cyberattack amid the coronavirus outbreak. The attack involved overloading the department’s servers with millions of hits attempting to slow down the agency’s systems, Bloomberg first reported.
Turetsky said the best defense against a cyber attack is following proper “cyber hygiene tools.” Employers can require a two-tiered sign in to VPNs to further strengthen security, he added.
The state’s Office of Information Technology Services said they have provided guidelines to all state agencies amid the influx of more employees working from home.
“The technology professionals at ITS work every day to mitigate risk, identify potential threats and maintain the security of our environment, and we will continue to do so during this unprecedented time,” a senior ITS official said in a statement Tuesday.
Then there is also the challenge for those living in rural parts of the Capital Region having limited or no access to the internet.
“Here in Saratoga County we already have areas with no internet access — or even cellular access,” said Tara N. Gaston, who represents Saratoga Springs on the county Board of Supervisors, in a tweet. “There are students who will not be able to keep up with work, and people who just cannot work from home.”
While those living in areas where there is limited access may have to continue to make do, internet providers and local libraries have stepped in to fill the void within families that don’t have access, or can’t afford it.
Charter Communications is offering free Spectrum internet access for 60 days to students who currently don’t use the service in regions where Spectrum is available.
The offer is available to both K-12 and college students, and those who opt for the free access should call after the 60 days to ensure charges aren’t incurred. To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households. Spectrum also opened up its wireless hotspots to the public.
Meanwhile, libraries in Albany have kept wifi access open for those in the community to connect, and the next few weeks the Albany library will be rolling out online programs for children, said Scott Jarzombek, executive director for Albany Public Library.
“The next few weeks is making sure people do what they need to do to stop the spread of virus,” he said. “And while we do that, we’re working on a plan to help in any way we can to go back to our mission of bridging the digital divide.”
For Albany, that digital divide hovers at about 25 percent of the city’s population lacking internet access.
According to a survey by the Associated Press, nearly 3 million students around the country face academic challenges because they have no home internet. An estimated 24 percent of students have no computer at home in New York, and 15 percent have no internet connection, according to the analysis of U.S. Census data.
As for the area’s largest internet provider having the capacity to service the Capital Region, Spectrum officials say that threshold is not yet near.
“Our network is built to exceed capacity at peak usage, which is typically in the evenings,” said Lara Pritchard, a spokeswoman for Charter, adding that they monitor the networks 24/7 and keep in touch with other providers. “It is still early, but thus far, across our network and theirs, any increase in daytime network activity has been modest, far below capacity and even still well below typical evening usage.”
©2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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