Forty-three percent of U.S. employees engage in remote work at least some of the time. By contrast, 44% of companies around the world didn’t allow any of their employees to work remotely as of 2018. A lack of remote work infrastructure puts such businesses at a disadvantage in an environment where the need for a robust remote workforce is becoming more important than ever.
Adopting a remote work policy requires careful consideration of the implications for cybersecurity. Although employee productivity and satisfaction are likely to rise when a remote work option is offered, companies making the transition need to follow best practices for identity management, access control and data security.
Start with Reliable Infrastructure and Security Tools
Cloud-based work, productivity and collaboration platforms with the ability to handle large numbers of remote employees enable businesses of all sizes to implement remote work policies. Cloud platforms are scalable and often include security tools for managing network access and data protection. Key factors for successful remote work security include:
• Support for numerous device types
• End-to-end data encryption
• Compliance with all major security and privacy laws
• Mobile device management options for employee-owned device access
• Regular data backups and redundancy
• Continuous monitoring for malicious activity
Businesses are likely to require several tools to achieve the optimal combination of these remote work security features. This requires quick action on the part of IT teams and executives to identify remote access needs, research vendor options and develop plans for deployment.
Implement Strong Access Control for Remote Work Security
Proper identity management and access control becomes even more critical when employees are working remotely. To minimize risks, companies must:
• Require the use of a company-managed VPN with detailed activity and access logging
• Provide company-owned devices for work access or implement mobile management of personal devices
• Require multi-factor authentication for all platforms
• Establish access guidelines, including time and location restrictions
• Review and update access permissions on a regular basis
• Require employees to install and routinely update security software on all devices with network access
Additional security measures and access restrictions may be necessary for employees who work with highly sensitive data.
Educate Employees Regarding Increased Remote Access Risks
Businesses face a difficult paradox when implementing remote work policies. Employees may be more productive and happier when they work remotely at least part of the time, but growing a remote workforce carries the greatest risks. Should a breach occur and network access become impossible, a business with a predominantly offsite team could face the prospect of a complete shutdown.
The problem is compounded if disaster or calamity precipitates a sudden shift to remote work. Hackers can use panic and the associated lack of judgment to target people in their most vulnerable states of mind. Therefore, education is an essential part of remote work cybersecurity. Employees must know:
• The dangers of accessing company networks from unsecured Wi-Fi connections
• The increased possibility of phishing and malware attacks
• Specific company guidelines or restrictions applying to remote access
Practice Timely Data Breach Responses
Remote work introduces a great deal of unknowns for which company security policies have no provisions. Although it’s impossible to anticipate every possibility, strategic response planning can enable businesses to reduce the impact of data breaches resulting from vulnerabilities in remote platforms.
Conducting routine risk assessments and remote access audits pinpoints potential issues with permission levels, authentication methods and activity logs and reveals areas with insufficient or conflicting security settings. In addition to fixing these weak areas, companies should implement tools to:
• Log all network access and activity
• Isolate devices affected by malware
• Remotely lock or wipe stolen devices
Data forensics experts and legal teams with cybersecurity experience can offer additional support in using these tools to mitigate breach effects while helping companies navigate the aftermath of attacks.
Test the Remote Access System
Because the need to shift to remote work can happen with little warning, companies must take the essential step of testing new remote access infrastructure prior to allowing widespread use. Testing need not be more complicated than selecting a team of reliable employees to work from home for a short stretch of time and asking them to take note of any issues they encounter.
Even a few days of such an experiment can reveal bottlenecks, vulnerabilities, problems with permissions and unanticipated access needs. Guidance from a cybersecurity professional is invaluable when turning insights into actionable changes. Repeating the test on occasion as the nature of remote work evolves allows businesses to maximize productivity and provide the best experience for offsite employees.
With some independent research data predicting remote work will rival or overtake traditional office environments by 2025, now is the time for companies to strengthen remote access policies. Proper planning and preparation can mitigate breach risks through a combination of security infrastructure and ongoing employee education.