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How to maintain security when employees work from home?


Security breaches are undoubtedly the biggest concern faced by companies transitioning into the remote work culture. According to reports, close to 43 percent of all cyberattacks involve attempts to break into the private networks of small businesses. This mainly includes DDoS attacks, Ransomware attacks, and social engineering attacks. With the rapid increase in security breaches, it is critical for businesses to improve their cybersecurity standards from time to time.

After all, you need to maintain security with remote workers while transitioning to the remote work culture. Unless you do that, security breaches can take down your organization in no time. This is mainly because employers have very little control over remote employees, which increases the attack surface. Nevertheless, working from home is the new normal — something that needs to be embraced in the current situation.

So, the need of the hour is to let your employees work remotely without compromising on internal security, and if that seems like an impossible feat to achieve, then read until the end. We bring you a combination of cost-effective strategies and cutting-edge technologies that can help maintain security with remote workers.

Why is it difficult to maintain security with remote workers?

The possibilities of security breaches at the workplace have always been high, which only increases while transitioning into the remote work culture. Although advocates of remote work culture emphasize the operational cost-reduction and convenience, seldom do people discuss the challenges involved in the transition phase and effective solutions to counter those challenges.

The most hushed topic is the compliance of customer agreements, which often state a confidentiality clause. Something that can be easily marred due to data leaks. With remote workers, organizations tend to have very little control over the flow of data. Unless strong measures are in place, data leaks could lead to some very serious consequences such as legal liability or contract termination. Let us now discuss some of the key challenges involved in maintaining security while working with remote workers and how you can overcome them.

Lack of Physical Control

Most companies have their reservations about switching to the remote work culture as it hinders direct control over employees. No management wishes to be billed for the hours that employees spend on social media or household chores. Moreover, expecting the Managers to constantly call and check on their subordinates is unrealistic and archaic.

A novel solution would be to use technology to keep track of what your employees are up to and to evaluate their actions periodically. This is possible with innovative employee tracking tools like EmpMonitor, which allows Employers to stay informed about the activities of their remote employees. This involves tracking application-wise usage, keystrokes, capturing automatic screenshots, generating periodical reports, and more. You can even schedule tasks for your team and keep up with their progress.

Regular Penetration Tests

From Government Agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to well-established corporates like Forbes, organizations across the globe have experienced security threats in one form or the other. As you can deduce, security breaches cannot be particularly linked to remote workers and any organization can be the victim of a cyberattack. Yet, there is no denying that remote employees can increase the attack surface, but that is only if you do not have the necessary security measures in place.

So, depending on how your business operates, you need to focus on fortifying your private network by scheduling penetration tests at regular intervals. Penetration tests are carried out by security firms through Experts known as Ethical Hackers. These professionals randomly attempt to hack into your organization’s network, which reveals its existing vulnerabilities.

 So, the idea here is to find the vulnerabilities within a network by mimicking the actions of real hackers. Once the penetration test is complete, the security firm will furnish a report and state measures to further strengthen your organization’s defenses. Since remote work culture is here to stay, it only makes sense to schedule quarterly penetration tests and fortify your network’s security.

Environmental Challenges

If your employees work remotely due to the coronavirus outbreak or for any other reason, then the degree of security risk involved varies depending on the resources you provide them with. If you provide them with a corporate laptop and a secure data connection, then you have better control over them because the company owns the assets. This puts you in a better position to ensure that the systems have a valid Operating System, an active Firewall, updated Antivirus, and more.

Since your admin team cannot reach out to the employees at their residences, allow them to remotely access the computers to check if the necessary security measures are in place. Operating Systems like Windows and Mac release regular updates that eliminate existing vulnerabilities identified by their experts. Likewise, an active antivirus connected to an updated database can defend the system against newly identified threats that security firms like Norton, McAfee, and AVG update in their databases on a regular day-to-day basis.

While that takes care of most of the security concerns in the case of permanent remote employees who use company assets like laptops, data cards, etc… it isn’t a feasible solution while hiring temporary remote employees. In that case, you could amend the existing work agreement to have the employee agreeing to abide by the required security standards. 

Alternatively, if you wish to pay on an hourly basis, then you can use platforms such as Upwork or People Per Hour, which let you track employee activities. If the commission charged by these platforms seems too expensive, then you could consider executing a direct contract with the employee and having EmpMonitor installed to keep track of employee productivity.

Employee Awareness

The coronavirus outbreak and the absence of an effective vaccine leave organizations with no choice but to work with reduced staff. So, as most of your employees would be working remotely, there are new security challenges that you need to address. The risk is no longer restricted to phishing emails as most people share their computers with others living in the same household. 

So, the attack surface increases considerably, and therefore you need to inform your employees about the potential risks and educate them on how to thwart security threats with responsible user behavior. You can do this by creating a mandatory cybersecurity training program on your company’s portal. 

Next, send out an email directing all your employees to undergo the course as part of your company’s policy. With this, you will educate and inform your employees about how installing a seemingly harmless application can lead to a ransomware attack or some other form of breach.

Use secure cloud services

As the good old adage goes — you get what you pay for, and that’s absolutely true in the case of Google Cloud, one of the most popular cloud services used by companies to exchange files. But did you know that every file you send through the Google drive without accessibility restrictions is indexed by Google? That means, when anyone runs a search for ‘data expert agreement’, they may come across the highly confidential agreement that you shared through Google docs, but without implementing the necessary restrictions.  

So, in order to safely exchange data on the Google cloud, it is imperative to either lock those files by restricting their access based on email IDs or to avoid using it to exchange secure data. Instead, you can switch to a premium and more secure cloud storage provider.

 Some of your options include IDrive, Zoozl, and Sync.com. All three cloud service providers make use of 256-bit AES encryption and have outstanding security features in place. For instance, the IDrive comes with IDrive Thin client Application, which allows the management or the IT personnel to manage the settings of all connected systems. That sure makes it the most ideal choice for an organization.

Educate your Employees about Phishing emails

Phishing attacks are the most common type of cyberattack on any commercial enterprise, which begins by sending a deceptive malicious link to a target. The target could be literally anyone who has access to a closed network such as an employee or an independent contractor. Most people aren’t even aware of this form of cyberattack, leave alone its consequences. Therefore, it is important to educate your employees on how to identify malicious links and what they must do if they accidentally click on one.

Disable auto logins

In order to maintain security with remote workers, you need to instruct them to disable auto logins. That’s because most of your employees would be sharing the same roof with others such as flatmates, friends, family members, or pets. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you instruct your employees to disable auto logins as a precautionary measure. This would not only save them from embarrassing situations but also help adhere to the high-security standards that they need to comply with, as part of a corporate network. 

You can also direct them to enable automatic locking on their laptop when left idle for a certain amount of time. In fact, the best way to go about it is to put all of this in your company’s security policy and circulate it to your subordinates.

Checklist of Security Measures for Remote Employees

As a remote employee, you need to stay much more vigilant in order to reduce the attack surface. You can easily achieve that by implementing the below-listed security measures.

  •  Regularly update your Operating System, Firewall, Antivirus, and other programs.
  • Get rid of outdated routers and use the ones that are encrypted.
  • To maintain maximum transparency, make use of productivity evaluation software like EmpMonitor.
  • Avoid installing unknown applications into your system as that could lead to a ransomware attack.
  • Do not click on links from unknown sources as that could result in a phishing attack.
  • Do not allow your family members to use the laptop given by your employer.
  • Never make use of public Wifis without a VPN.

Despite all the precautionary measures that you implement, securing an organization’s network entirely is impossible. Nevertheless, adopting the above-mentioned measures can help reduce the risk surface considerably, which is the only way to counter cyberattacks.

Security breaches are bound to happen regardless of whether you work with an in-house team or a remote team. Therefore, it is critical to regularly backup essential data and to store it after classifying it based on sensitivity. 

For example, in healthcare organizations, this would mean medical records of patients, and for eCommerce operators, it would be the order-related data. Likewise, for consultants, it would be customer data or parts of customer data based on the nature of that particular business. Accordingly, businesses must chalk out an effective security plan to protect their data.

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