Many modern-thinking businesses have embraced the concept of remote working. There are still a lot of advantages both for the employer as well as the employee long after it ceased to be a necessity of working life.
Regardless of what your business does day to day, if you have remote workers, you’re going to have vulnerable areas in your business, and you would be wise to strengthen these with cybersecurity measures.
This can be approached in a number of different ways, but you first need to understand where your vulnerable areas are and why they are apparent. Before you do that, you need to first look at your remote working structure and see which solution would provide the best fit for your business.
There has been a steady increase in remote workers
In recent years, there has been a particularly strong move toward remote working practices. This is mainly due to the impact of the pandemic and the necessary requirements that were taken to control its spread.
Many companies that didn’t embrace remote working or couldn’t ended up closing their doors for good — in fact, this amounted to a massive 700,000+ businesses (although some of these were temporary closures) in the US alone, according to the Federal Reserve Board in 2022. Yet many companies before this time wouldn’t have supported remote working conditions within their business structure, and yet, it’s having this versatility that has probably saved a lot of them from going out of business.
Both employees and employers quickly realized the benefits that could be gained from this new method of working, and so now there’s support in place as well as technological advances readily available so that every business and employee can take advantage of this important way of working.
Benefits for employers
There are countless benefits for employers if they have a partly or wholly remote workforce within their business structure. These can be separated into costs and convenience.
· Cost savings
For instance, having part or all of your workforce working outside of the main office will mean that you won’t be paying ever-increasing rents for a larger premises to fit all your workers under one roof. You should also save on office tools and equipment as well as the maintenance of it — and of course, the running costs which will have accumulated while everything is plugged in and being used.
· Convenience for your business
With the inclusion of remote working, you’ll be opening up your candidate pool to as far as the other side of the world should you wish. This means that you’ll have the opportunity to recruit workers that are possibly better qualified, more experienced, and may be even cheaper than those within commuting distance of your current location.
· Increased customer service
If you do decide to hire individuals in different countries, you can also offer around-the-clock service to your customers and take advantage of any additional languages that your new employees can bring into your business. Bilingual speakers can enhance the customer experience as well as help you to expand your business into other countries.
Benefits for employees
Of course, this scenario wouldn’t work unless there were also benefits from the employees’ point of view as well, and there are plenty. Here too, there are savings and convenience issues that every employee would want to take advantage of.
· Convenience for employees
Landing that dream job which may not have been a realistic idea in the past, is much more likely now that there are more employers expanding their recruitment pools as wide as they possibly can. A major added benefit to this is that there needn’t be any painful goodbyes to friends and family members or expensive relocations just because the business is located in another state or country.
· Saving time, money, and stress
Of course, this is ideal for employees who live a great distance away from your business. Those who live closer and would have normally been expected to come into the office won’t have to deal with the stressful (and often expensive — both in time and money) daily commute to and from work.
· A better work/life balance
This then frees up time which can be spent with loved ones or doing a preferred activity other than sitting in traffic or on public transport. This will also remove the stress felt when trying to get to work on time, delays with travel or transport, or the panic of not being able to locate a parking space, which can all affect your employees’ mood and their health before they even sit down at their desk.
Cybersecurity problems facing remote working conditions
Of course, at first, there were teething problems as the business world wasn’t ready for remote working to happen quite as quickly as it did, nor on such a large scale. This was mainly down to nobody knowing quite what to expect and going into the situation blind; it may have sounded relatively easy to initiate, but, in practice, it was a lot harder.
- Extra logins
This was the first big challenge that businesses like yours faced. Instead of people logging into apps and packages from the office, you had lots of logins from various locations happening at the same time — and you mightn’t have known which ones are legitimate and which are hacking attempts.
- Workers are easily distracted
As remote workers are typically working from their homes, they could have multiple interruptions or distractions throughout their working day, which have nothing to do with their working life. For instance, distractions from family members, children in particular, making noise, or generally being about.
These breaks in concentration can lead to mistakes being made, such as not logging off properly when leaving their computer, clicking the wrong button accidentally, or neglecting to recognize a phishing email when it arrives in their inbox because a child suddenly wants their attention.
- Lack of space to work in
If they live in a small home or only have one room to live in and work from, your remote workers could have insufficient space to work. This in itself doesn’t sound like a problem until you realize that if there’s no room to work, there’s no room to get organized. This, too, can lead to errors and inefficiency with workloads. In order to get on top of this situation and not draw unwanted attention to it your worker could end up cutting corners to make up time.
This might include basic security measures like not logging off properly when going for comfort breaks which could lead to security breaches by parties wishing to cause harm.
- Working from various locations and therefore using public WiFi
Although the desire to do this may be strong, it’s something that should be avoided whenever possible. Public WiFi is generally far from secure, and it’s a happy hunting ground for hackers and cybercriminals to do what they’re best at and gain access to unwitting WiFi users’ details and systems. This means that any of your employees using public WiFi is directly putting your business at risk unless the right precautions are taken.
- People in shared housing all using the same internet connection
This can also be true for people who live in shared accommodation that just has one internet connection to serve all occupants. Of course, again, there are some precautions that you can put in place to make this a far safer scenario for your employees.
As time has moved on, these problems still exist, and the larger number of people working remotely full-time means that these problems are still a risk to your business. However, there are several solutions that you can put in place to not only combat these problems but also make the whole experience much smoother for both you as the business owner and also everyone who works for you.
Important procedures to put in place to combat these problems
These solutions are all but essential for any workforce that is dispersed, whether this is around your city, country, or even the rest of the world. As such, the solutions aren’t listed in any order of precedence, and it’ll be up to you to decide which are the most vital according to your own business structure.
1. Ensure your remote employees are supplied with VPNs
This is a quick and easy solution with a small cost and, if used correctly, will eliminate the risk when your employee chooses to use public WiFi or lives in a home with multiple occupants and only one internet connection. It can also help your systems to cope with the logistics of all your remote workers aiming to gain access to your servers at the same time, and the extra encryption involved with using a VPN can be harder to hack, even for those working from their regular connection at home.
In addition, aside from the security benefits, VPNs also have IP masking, which can bypass geo-restrictions to access websites in other countries, which might be useful for your very remotely located workers.
2. Installing antivirus software on all company devices
Typically you’ll be supplying your remote worker with their equipment, which gives you the opportunity to install some safeguards, including antivirus software. While workers are becoming more savvy and malware attacks are on the decline, there were still over 5.5 billion in 2022, so this problem can’t be underestimated. That is without all of the other protection that this type of software gives you.
Many cybersecurity companies can offer you a business-wide deal on getting everybody covered, but even if you’re worried about the expense, this is an area where you can’t afford to cut corners.
3. Incorporating enough firewalls within your business
As with antivirus software, you might not have been aware quite how important firewalls can be or even how they work. Typically you have software “host” firewalls installed on each device used by a remote worker and network-based firewalls, which are usually hardware, and protect your entire network, like a security guard on the door, controlling what comes in and what goes out.
If you’re unsure about the number of firewalls that your business requires in order to support its day-to-day running and keep your business safe, you should speak to a professional firewall business such as sonicwallonline.co.uk. They’ll also be able to provide you with an idea of the best makes and models that will allow your business the scope to expand and grow while providing the right level of security.
4. Initiating zero trust and MFA
To ensure that your remote employees are getting into good habits, you should initiate zero trust software and, in addition to this, multi-factor authentication (MFA) for access to your most sensitive applications. This will provide a stronger defense against hackers and cybercriminals as they may find it relatively easy to get hold of passwords or usernames, but physical forms of identification such as a personal swipe card or badge may be harder to come by.
Of course, you can also add to these other forms of identification, such as retina or fingerprint scanning or voice or face recognition, as this will make the cybercriminals have to work even harder. This will be essential if a device is stolen in a house break-in, a car theft, or an opportunist who sees an unattended laptop in a coffee shop.
5. Limiting employee data access
In order to protect your business further, should a cybercriminal still be able to hack into your system or find a foothold via a phishing email, you can limit the amount of access that your employees have within your data banks. An employee that only has access to areas of data that they require for their job roles won’t want or ask for more access. “Additionally, employing an SPF record checker can bolster your email security by verifying the authenticity of sender addresses and reducing the likelihood of spoofing or phishing attempts.” However, if a hacker or cybercriminals has managed to gain access, they’ll go looking to gain more information. This in itself will raise a red flag for your IT cybercrime specialists to focus on and can therefore limit the amount of damage and information that cybercriminals can obtain from your business.
6. Provide extensive end-user education
When it comes to employees spotting potential hazards and phishing emails, their abilities are only going to be as good as the education that they’ve received on the subject. This is why you should make sure that you provide them with ample sources of training — preferably at the hands of those who are experts within the cybersecurity field. Cybercriminals are far from blatant when it comes to tactics, instead, they’re very subtle in their approach, and the difference between a trustworthy email and a phishing one could be very little at first glance, if no different at all to the untrained eye. However, as this piece from Deloitte shows, 91% of the time, it is via a phishing email that access is gained into an organization’s data system.
7. Have procedures in place and provide a “go-to” person for support and security breaches
To help your remote employees, aside from educating them and providing the right hardware and software to aid their performance and allow them to work in a safe and productive manner, you should also have procedures in place if they feel that they’ve been a target of a phishing attack.
Providing them with a person to go to will stop them from feeling alone, while it will also help to make the business aware of the attack, whether it has ended or is in progress. Ideally, this would be the person who instructed them during end-user education so they’re not explaining a delicate situation to a complete stranger.
Of course, the speed at which your business responds to a successful cyberattack will determine how much access and data has been jeopardized, how quickly you recover, and how much damage has been done to your reputation.
8. Cloud migration
If you haven’t done so already, migrate some or all of your shared applications used by remote workers to a cloud platform. This is typically better for the kind of traffic caused by a remote workforce, and cloud servers are usually considered harder to hack. Tangentially associated with this is the fact that cloud servers won’t go down if there’s a power cut, and they can’t be physically hacked should someone gain access to your building.
9. Set up good housekeeping procedures
As with all new practices, over time, people forget to follow them, so you need to make it a habit.
You should put in place processes whereby your workforce:
- Change their passwords regularly
- Don’t receive private emails on a work device
- Don’t access social media on a work device
- Logs off if they leave their desk (even for a quick comfort break)
- Runs all software updates and regular scans of their equipment (during working hours, of course)
When it comes to strengthening cybersecurity for your remote workforce, you need to first know your enemy and understand how they’ll try to gain access as well as why. Then, in order to keep your business safe, you need to close every loophole and make it as hard as possible for them to gain entry.
Although you may be told that the main weakness is having remote workers in your business in the first place, this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many benefits of a remote workforce, although it does mean that you have to view your cybersecurity from a different angle and act accordingly to ensure that all the data you hold remains safe and out of harm’s way.
Of course, with this, you have to remember that should another catastrophe happen, and traditional companies have difficulty performing their business due to segregation of employees, those companies that already have a digitally secure remote workforce will ride the wave as they’ll already have the advantage.