In 2020, companies were pushed to adapt to an unprecedented global pandemic. They shifted rapidly from an office-based workforce to a remote one. And with that went the protection of having employees connected through on-premise secure servers, which called for a remote work cyber security infrastructure to be installed.
Employees had to configure the official devices through their home networks, and the IT department had to work at scale for remote work cyber security. By moving the data into the cloud and securing it through virtual private networks, companies could maintain the continuity of operations.
In this article, we discuss how to mitigate the remote work cyber security risks to utilize the benefits of remote work fully.
Recent developments in cyber security for remote work
Remote work, especially when crucial data is based on basic networking and cloud services, has likely created vulnerabilities that companies are not able to identify. According to a study by IBM, the average cost of preventing a data breach increased by 10% between 2020 to 2021. It was the highest single-year increase in the past seven years. The average cost was $1.07 million higher for breaches where people were working remotely.
What cyber security risks do remote workers face?
The IT department cannot manage a workforce distributed remotely with conventional methods and tools. Thus, remote work cyber security threats, such as phishing, have become more prevalent in the past few years. Let’s look at the most common challenges for cyber security in remote working.
1. Poor Wi-Fi security
Organizations usually secure their on-premise networks with security features, such as encryption, firewalls, filtering, etc., but employees are not able to maintain the same level of security at home through wireless networks.
In addition, many people do not follow strong security practices while working on their home’s Wi-Fi. As a result, hackers can easily spy on their connections and get access to confidential information.
2. Phishing attacks and ransomware
Generally, cyber criminals block or lock employees’ access to their data using malware and phishing attacks. Once they have control over the system or data, they threaten to delete/alter/sell it until their ransom demand is fulfilled.
The primary purpose of hackers is to scam organizations and extort them. This malware is often sent through emails with malicious attachments to infect data or a device. Recovering data can lead to significant expenses for the organization.
3. Intercepting business communication
Many employees use file-sharing solutions to share documents with their teammates. These files are often safe when hosted on corporate networks, but the same level of security cannot be maintained while working remotely. It can leave your data vulnerable to being obstructed by hackers midway and can result in data theft, identity fraud, ransomware attacks, etc.
4. Using personal devices for business communication
While working remotely, employees don’t necessarily carry their office devices to their homes. According to a survey, 46% of employees have admitted to using their devices to access or transfer work-related files. These personal devices are often unregulated and don’t have any crucial security measures.
Similarly, employees also bring their devices, such as a cellphone, to work and use them for communication, which poses a threat to remote work cyber security. For instance, when an employee uses a personal unencrypted device to log into their business accounts, hackers can easily breach through it. In addition, if an employee quits the organization, they may continue holding on to the confidential data stored on their devices knowingly or unknowingly.
➡️ Learn more about WhatsApp and secure communication in the workplace.
It is also risky when an employee starts using the company’s devices for non-work-related activities. Remote work cyber security is jeopardized when employees use their office devices for personal purposes like shopping online or accessing their social media accounts. These portals may not be entirely business-proof and pose a severe data threat.
5. Poor password hygiene
Weak passwords for protecting corporate accounts are another remote work cyber security threat. Such an error will weaken remote work cyber security even if your employees use firewalls, VPNs, etc.
People tend to relate their passwords with things that are easy to remember (such as birthdays, names, etc.), especially when they have to use them often. Cybercriminals know different methods to crack passwords by using simple strategies. With the right amount of time, even a bot can crack a weak password.
How to mitigate cyber security risks while working remotely?
It is evident that organizations need efficient remote work cyber security measures to safeguard their data and their employee’s privacy. Here’s a list of things you can do to ensure cyber security in a remote working framework:
1. Setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
VPN ensures a private internet connection that an unauthorized person, including hackers and internet providers, cannot access. Websites accessed on a VPN cannot figure out your location or keep a tab on your activity. Although using a VPN can potentially slow down internet speeds and affect the quality of bandwidth-intensive tasks, you can opt for VPN services that are known for their speed and stability.
2. Employee training
Remember, 82% of data breaches involve human errors. Consider conducting regular training sessions to help employees recognize phishing attacks, share data securely, lock devices, etc.
You can ask them to install and regularly update their home router software to make sure that the IT team can patch existing security gaps and reduce the risk of a data breach over time.
Advise your employees to create unique or unpredictable passwords for their Wi-Fi networks and devices and not access sensitive information using unknown networks.
3. Establish cyber security breach protocols
Establish a set of security protocols for your organization and ensure that all employees follow these protocols to minimize potential risks. For example, whenever you assign a new device to any employee, ensure that your IT team installs antivirus software and a firewall.
Make sure you follow your country’s data protection laws and regulations and establish protocols that help you adhere to data sovereignty. Framing a password policy can ensure its applicable organization-wide and will be helpful. Encrypting sensitive data and cloud-based file sharing is also recommended.
4. Use secure collaboration tools
There are thousands of collaboration tools available in the market to help organizations improve security while improving team collaboration. While choosing your collaboration tool, look for crucial features such as on-premise deployment, open source, ISO certification, data encryption, minimal use of metadata, etc.
Choose a secure, user-friendly communication tool that provides plenty of integrations, so employees don’t refrain from using it. Besides, you can always keep the security credentials of the collaborative tools updated.
5. Antivirus software
The first step in saving your organization’s data from breaches is to leverage remote work cyber security antivirus software. Ensure that your employees have this antivirus software on their devices. It is the easiest way to detect and defuse potential malware.
6. Regular security audits for the entire organization
A security audit evaluates the security of an organization’s systems. It measures how well the system conforms to the set criteria. A thorough audit involves the security of a system’s physical configuration, software, information handling processes, user practices, etc.
7. Multifactor authentication and strong passwords
It is one of the simplest yet overlooked ways to protect from potential malware attacks while working from home. Speaking about strong passwords, the US federal trade commission says that you should use passwords on all your devices and apps.
Make sure the passwords are long, strong, and unique – at least 12 characters with a mix of numbers, symbols, and capital and lowercase letters.
In addition, employees should enable multi-factor authentication to ensure multiple levels of security on their devices. Employees must also have additional passwords while working with sensitive data as it’ll be difficult for hackers to access. Using a password manager tool to keep difficult passwords is also helpful.
8. Apply an organization-wide zero-trust approach
Remote or hybrid workforces require verification every time they access corporate applications, devices, and data. It is where the zero-trust approach comes into the picture. Zero trust network access provides secure and remote access to an organization’s applications (primarily data) based on predefined access-control policies. This ensures that only authorized people will have access.
5 secure tools for remote teams
Adjusting to a changing workspace is rarely easy, but companies can make this transition smoother for their employees. Provide your team with tools to enable real-time communication, manage tasks, and schedule meetings. Listed below are some secure open-source tools to prevent remote work cyber security that you might need while managing remote task forces.
A VPN solution enables employees to connect their devices securely with a remote network while hiding the end-user’s IP address. It poses some crucial advantages, such as retaining employees’ privacy, data encryption, etc. The three most popular VPN solutions include:
It provides a range of services, including firewall and VPN, to protect networks from cyber threats helping with compliance. Fortigate can be managed through a web interface or APIs.
This software application allows users to securely connect to a network from various devices. It provides a range of security features, including encryption, two-factor authentication, and network access control, to protect against cyber threats and unauthorized access.
BIG-IP offers services (like load balancing and traffic management) to improve the performance and security of networks & applications. It can also be managed through a web interface or APIs.
Password managers help generate strong passwords and manage them securely. Employees can store all these passwords in one safe place. They only have to remember one master password that unlocks the password manager tools to access all their passwords. Some popular ISO-recommended password manager tools include the following:
It helps users securely store and manage their passwords, login credentials, and other sensitive information with features like auto-filling of login forms, password generation, and two-factor authentication.
Built into Apple's iOS and macOS operating systems, iCloud Keychain helps users store and manage their passwords and credentials. iCloud Keychain is integrated with the Safari web browser on iOS and macOS and can be accessed through the Settings app on these platforms.
It is an open-source password manager available for Windows, Linux, and macOS. KeePass can be accessed through native applications or through plugins for web browsers.
Secure collaboration tools
Messaging apps, project management tools, and file sharing all fit under one umbrella: ‘collaboration.’ Though these are different types of software, they all help companies achieve one goal — efficient collaboration and effective communication. Here are the most popular collaboration tools that uphold the cybersecurity best practices:
Rocket.Chat is a flexible, open-source, and robust communication platform that lets developers customize aspects such as UIs, themes, etc., and integrate many third-party custom apps and tools. It helps teams align operations with external partners and increase productivity through one platform. Rocket.Chat also ensures safety measures through on-premise deployment and end-to-end encryption.
Pexip enables users to make in-person calls between virtually any endpoint, such as SIP devices, Skype business accounts, etc. It provides full support for individual transcoding and transrating of video and audio.
It provides simple and secure conference management capabilities and interaction for people attending the conference. The host can add, disconnect, and mute other participants if they sense anything fishy.
Nextcloud is also an open-source collaboration tool that integrates Calendar, Contacts, Mail, and other productivity features to enable workforces to get their work done securely.
Antivirus software is the easiest way to block hackers and attackers from reaching your valuable data. Besides, you must also ensure that your teams keep updating the antivirus software. Some legacy antivirus software includes:
It is designed to protect against malware, viruses, and other cyber threats, with features like real-time protection, cloud-based threat analysis, and web and email protection.
McAfee is a brand of cybersecurity software products and services that include a range of antivirus security solutions for individuals, families, and businesses. These products are designed to protect against malware, viruses, and other cyber threats.
It is a global cybersecurity company with a range of security solutions, including antivirus software and internet security suites. It prevents your systems from multiple cyber threats with features like real-time protection, cloud-based threat analysis, and web and email protection.
Encrypted email services
Email communication is usually not secured by default. Email encryption software helps in securing your email services and protects businesses from data theft and malicious attacks. Some of the popular email encryption services include:
It is a Dutch-based email service that offers secure communication for individuals and businesses through end-to-end encryption. StartMail protects the content of emails so that they can only be read by the intended recipient.
It is a brand of encrypted email services offered by Namecheap, a domain name registrar and web hosting company. A unique aspect of PrivateEmail is that users can easily register and manage their domain names and web hosting services through the same provider.
It is a Swiss-based email service that offers features like secure messaging, anonymous email accounts, and the ability to set expiration dates for emails. ProtonMail operates its own servers and infrastructure, which allows it to have full control over its security measures and offers users added protection against cyber threats.
The bottom line
Data breaches are tremendously damaging to organizations. You must know where your data is every minute. It can only happen through combined data discovery and analytics. Organizations must revisit their policies and processes, including their security posture and risk appetite.
Just because an incident has not happened yet doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. Maintaining remote work cyber security is utterly crucial, and organizations must sense the urgency and act accordingly.