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Proactive Measures Against Remote Work Security Risks | Company Cybersecurity

  • 30 Jan 2024

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In an era where more individuals work online, and as services continue to shift towards digital platforms, the cybersecurity threat landscape facing companies is on the rise. Moreover, as more people adopt remote work or work-from-home arrangements, the spectrum of remote work security risks has expanded significantly.

Deloitte's research underscores the heightened cybersecurity concerns that have emerged, especially during the pandemic, when many businesses underwent rapid digital transformations. For instance, Switzerland experienced more than double the usual volume of cyberattacks in April 2020. Additionally, a disturbing trend emerged between February and May 2020, with over half a million individuals worldwide falling victim to security breaches that resulted in the theft and illicit sale of personal data from video meeting users on the dark web.

Furthermore, the sophistication of phishing attacks has been steadily increasing, and the cybersecurity landscape has grown more intricate and diverse. These developments necessitate a proactive approach by companies to address security issues, aiming to prevent hacks and attacks rather than reacting after they occur. It is also imperative for companies to devise strategies for detecting and responding to security breaches, ensuring business continuity.

Various factors contribute to the cybersecurity risks associated with remote work, and employers can take multiple measures to mitigate these risks. The following sections delve into six global remote work security risks and elucidate how companies can effectively confront these challenges to safeguard their operations.

What are the risks associated with Remote Work?

Remote work, though convenient, carries its own set of security vulnerabilities. Employees, often unintentionally, can inadvertently expose your network and confidential company data to threat actors. When companies suddenly transition to remote work, employees may struggle to maintain a secure work environment.

Remote workers can become the chief menace to your network's security, endangering your company's data with potential data breaches, identity theft, and various adverse consequences.

Let's delve into some of the security risks associated with remote work:

Deceptive Email Scams

Phishing tactics pose the most significant cyber threat to remote employees. These schemes involve fraudulent individuals or entities posing as legitimate sources, usually via email, to deceive victims into divulging private login credentials or privileged information. These ill-gotten details can then be exploited to compromise accounts, steal confidential data, commit identity fraud, and more.

Phishing emails have grown increasingly sophisticated, often bypassing email filters to land in employees' primary inboxes, making them harder to detect.

Weak Security Measures

The relaxation of security controls extends beyond loosening firewall rules and email policies. Many layers of existing cyber protection may not apply to remote employees. When employees take their work devices home, they often need more defense provided by the office network, relying on their home Wi-Fi instead.

Cybersecurity teams typically don't monitor activities on employees' home networks. Remote work inherently involves system access, network traffic, and data moving beyond the traditional enterprise technology perimeters. Consequently, organizations need help to extend monitoring to all endpoints and networks facilitating remote work environments.

Cyberattacks on Remote Infrastructure

In addition to weakened controls, introducing new infrastructure introduces fresh risks. Security teams must be vigilant against brute force and server-side attacks, with a pressing need for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection.

For many organizations, DDoS attacks could pose a severe threat, disrupting remote workers' access to internet services. Experts anticipate a surge in both these types of attacks.

Vulnerable Data on Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Employees may connect to their home wireless networks or access corporate accounts via unsecured public Wi-Fi, leaving them vulnerable to nearby malicious actors who can intercept and steal confidential information transmitted in plain text. To mitigate this risk, employees should be restricted from accessing unknown Wi-Fi networks without a VPN connection.

Expanded Attack Surface

With more employees working remotely, enterprises must safeguard an expanded array of endpoints, networks, and software, burdening already stretched IT departments.

Use of Personal Devices

Employees frequently transfer files between work and personal computers when working from home, a concerning practice. The "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) policy, which permits employees to use personal devices for work, has gained popularity. However, it poses significant challenges, such as employees retaining confidential information upon departure and potential security vulnerabilities from unpatched software.

Public Space Risks

Physical security remains relevant, even in a cybersecurity-focused context. Some employees may inadvertently expose sensitive information by speaking loudly on the phone, displaying their laptop screens in crowded public places, or leaving devices unattended. Companies should educate employees on basic security measures, reinforcing the importance of safeguarding business data.

Weak Passwords

Despite using VPNs and firewalls, employees may inadvertently weaken security by using weak passwords. Strengthening passwords across all devices is a simple yet often overlooked measure to protect against cyber threats.

Unencrypted File Sharing

While organizations may encrypt data stored on their networks, they might neglect data encryption during transit. Employees frequently share sensitive data daily, making it imperative to secure this information against interception, which could lead to identity fraud, ransomware attacks, theft, and more.

Cloud Misconfigurations

Adopting cloud technology for remote work introduces risks related to misconfigurations and inadequate access controls.

Webcam Vulnerabilities

The shift to remote work provides malicious insiders with opportunities to steal sensitive information from company devices within the confines of their homes. Additionally, those in the proximity of remote workers may pose unforeseen threats, making it essential to adopt a zero-trust approach even within home environments.

In conclusion, remote work offers convenience but necessitates heightened security measures to safeguard against these multifaceted security risks.

What are some Best Practices To Ensure Remote Work Security?

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To strengthen security within a remote working environment and ensure secure connectivity for employees, here are essential practices that companies can implement:

Implement Multi-factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication serves as an additional security layer for remote employee accounts. The more security layers in place, the lower the risk of cybercriminals gaining access to sensitive systems.

Utilize Password Managers

In addition to multi-factor authentication, employees should utilize password managers. This tool eliminates the need to remember numerous passwords for work-related accounts.

Leverage Business VPNs

Encourage employees to use a VPN for companies, even when working from home, especially when connecting to unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi hotspots. A business VPN routes internet traffic through your organization's private network, enhancing security by encrypting data. This ensures that anyone attempting to intercept the data cannot decipher it. Employees can access the company's intranet, a private network designated solely for company staff (if applicable).

Deploy Firewalls

Firewalls prevent unauthorized access to and from the network, fortifying the security of employee devices. These tools monitor network traffic and identify and block unwanted traffic, safeguarding remote endpoints from cyber threats.

Create a Work-from-Home Security Policy

Establish a security policy tailored to remote workers to protect sensitive company data when devices accessing the network can't be fully controlled. Such a policy outlines guidelines and practices for employees working away from the physical office and typically encompasses critical aspects of online security.

Critical components of this policy should include:

  • Clearly defining eligible remote positions to maintain transparency and fairness.
  • Listing approved tools and platforms for remote and on-site employees, ensuring uniformity in tool usage.
  • Providing clear instructions for employees to follow at the first signs of account compromise, including reporting incidents and changing passwords.
  • Incorporating cybersecurity training that covers topics such as creating strong passwords.

Enhance Endpoint Security

System administrators should strengthen security at the endpoint level and maintain real-time visibility into endpoints. Consider deploying a comprehensive endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution. This solution allows remote prevention of next-gen malware, data leakage mitigation, rapid threat response, and automated software deployment and patch management.

By implementing these best practices, companies can fortify their remote work security and minimize potential risks.

How to Safeguard Your Company Against Security Risks?

In light of the numerous security risks associated with remote work, it's prudent for companies to take proactive steps to protect their data and information. There are various measures that companies can adopt to enhance their defenses against cyber risks and cyberattacks. Providing remote staff with guidance and training can also help thwart cybersecurity breaches.

These cybersecurity solutions encompass:

Offering Remote Work Security Training to Staff

Equipping remote staff with cybersecurity training empowers them with the knowledge and skills necessary for safe operations and detecting potential security threats.

Companies can also provide various types of IT support to mitigate potential security risks. For instance, ensuring that all employees have multi-factor authentication for enhanced security, advocating the use of password managers to create solid and varied passwords without the risk of forgetting them, aiding employees in setting up a secure VPN for business for accessing company data, assisting with the configuration of firewalls on their devices, and ensuring access to the latest security software and updates to guard against malware and hacking.

Company-wide security training can raise staff awareness about various security threats, including recognizing secure and robust passwords, the importance of webcam covers, avoiding clicking on suspicious links to prevent phishing scams, keeping security software up-to-date, maintaining operating system updates, ensuring a transparent background during online meetings, and practicing caution when screen sharing. Additionally, educating employees on enabling two-factor authentication can further bolster security.

Companies can offer employees additional support, such as providing healthcare insurance to remote workers, regardless of their global location, as offered by companies like SafetyWing, which extends this benefit to remote teams, freelancers, and digital nomads.

Securing Company Infrastructure and Software

To mitigate security risks associated with remote work, company managers can take proactive steps to secure critical technology and software assets. This is especially crucial when a significant portion of the workforce operates remotely, exposing the company to heightened cybersecurity risks.

Key steps include:

  • Creating a remote work policy with a dedicated focus on cybersecurity.
  • Developing cybersecurity training for all employees, irrespective of their remote or in-office status, with a particular emphasis on phishing scams.
  • Ensuring business VPNs, encrypted video messaging software, centralized data storage with regular backups, and up-to-date antivirus software and operating systems.
  • Promoting the use of secure passwords, password management tools, and encryption software for data transmission.

Establishing a Remote Work Security Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many companies to unexpected security risks as employees transitioned to remote work without established policies. Recognizing the importance of remote work policies, many companies are now implementing dedicated guidelines, including cybersecurity measures, to safeguard digital data and information.

When formulating a remote work policy, consider the following cybersecurity aspects:

  • Clearly define which job roles are eligible for remote work, considering roles that may necessitate on-site presence for security reasons.
  • Compile a specified list of cybersecurity tools, software, and apps that employees must use and those they should avoid. This includes guidelines on approved video conferencing apps, software, and data storage practices.
  • Establish a transparent process for employees if they suspect their accounts have been compromised or hacked.
  • Implement security measures, such as secure storage for sensitive company information, including lockable cabinets or burglar-resistant desks, to prevent theft when devices are not in use.
  • Outline procedures for disposing of information, such as requiring the shredding of printed documents.
  • Define the consequences of breaches, violations, or non-compliance with policy terms.

By incorporating these elements into a comprehensive remote work security policy, companies can better protect their digital assets and mitigate the risks associated with remote work.

Wrapping Up

Remote work, while convenient and mutually beneficial for employers and employees, presents many security risks, especially in cybersecurity. When employees work remotely, they may inadvertently jeopardize the security of the entire company. This can occur through unsecured internet connections, mishandling company devices and data, or falling prey to phishing scams.

Many employees need more training, skills, or awareness to safeguard their devices against cyber threats. Therefore, it's imperative for companies to provide support and empowerment to their staff in identifying risks, knowing how to respond to potential breaches, and assisting them in acquiring the appropriate security software and hardware to prevent cyberattacks.

Furthermore, companies must be aware of the risks inherent in remote work to devise solutions and strategies for risk mitigation. Establishing a shared understanding of these risks and their solutions between employers and employees is pivotal, and this should be clearly articulated within a comprehensive remote work policy. Such a policy helps delineate employees' roles, responsibilities, and the repercussions for non-compliance or security breaches.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common remote work security risks?

Common remote work security risks include phishing attacks, unsecured Wi-Fi networks, weak passwords, and using personal devices for work. Additionally, employees may inadvertently mishandle company data when working remotely, potentially leading to data breaches.

How can companies mitigate remote work security risks?

Companies can mitigate remote work security risks by implementing multi-factor authentication, offering cybersecurity training to employees, providing secure VPN connections, and enforcing the use of password managers. Establishing a comprehensive remote work security policy and ensuring endpoint security are crucial steps.

What is the impact of remote work security breaches on businesses?

Remote work security breaches can have severe consequences, including data theft, financial losses, damage to reputation, and legal liabilities. Breaches can disrupt business operations and lead to costly recovery efforts.

How has the cybersecurity landscape changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many businesses' digital transformation, leading to increased cyberattacks and security breaches. Phishing attacks became more sophisticated, and companies faced heightened risks as employees shifted to remote work, often using less secure home networks and personal devices.