The Covid pandemic has pushed businesses worldwide to adopt a work-from-home culture.
While this shift in work dynamics has several positives, it has also brought remote work security concerns to the forefront.
But what is remote work security?
More importantly, why is it necessary?
In this article, we’ll discuss what remote work security is and why it’s crucial. We’ll then highlight 12 best practices for employers and three best practices for employees regarding remote work security.
This article contains:
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- What is remote work security & why is it important?
- Remote work security: 12 best practices for employers
- Remote work security: 3 best practices for employees
Let’s get started.
What is remote work security & why is it important?
Remote work security is a key branch of cybersecurity that protects company data when employees work remotely.
In remote work or telework, a remote employee can access critical corporate data from outside the office perimeter. This significantly increases their exposure to a potential security threat or a security breach.
Recent statistics by Twingate reveal that 59% of employees felt more cyber secure working in the office than working at home. Additionally, 58% of employees reported discussing sensitive information on work video calls.
Now, let’s explore the different security risks remote working companies face to understand why remote work security is important.
Security risks of working remotely
Remote employees are usually the first to face security threats in a corporate setting. They may accidentally get involved in a network security incident that can ripple quickly throughout the rest of your company.
Apart from remote employees, a personal device like a mobile device and laptop can also pose a security risk.
Here are the top remote work security issues businesses should consider:
- Managing remote devices and employees: Monitoring what equipment remote employees are using and if they’re following security protocols on their home networks can be challenging.
- Insecure passwords: Businesses may overlook the need for a strong password and won’t implement a password manager or policies to ensure a remote employee has a strong password.
- Phishing emails: Remote employees may become targets of a phishing scam. A phishing attack can lure them into providing confidential information like banking, credit card, and password information.
- Unsecured personal device: Remote employees and freelancers may work on an unsecured personal device like a mobile device or a laptop. This can be a threat to the company’s data security.
- Video attacks: Hackers and other threat actors can hijack video meetings to gain information or spread malicious content.
- Weak backup systems: A lack of proactive maintenance schedules by your IT security team and a reliable backup system can lead to financial and intellectual losses after a security breach.
In light of this information, let us take a quick look at how cyber security leaders and IT executives can augment remote work security and achieve better remote access security.
Remote work security: 12 best practices for employers
Here are 12 best practices employers can follow to ensure optimal remote work security:
1. Use advanced security controls
While establishing security controls is indeed important, managers and IT teams need to consider better approaches with time.
To tackle remote work security challenges, additional layers of security have to be deployed for every remote worker. These layers may include:
- Implementing 2FA for all remote users is generally a subtype of multi factor authentication in electronic systems. Multi factor authentication or two-factor authentication usually involves just the password or credentials for account login. Still, it may also contain other pieces of knowledge or evidence, like PINs, secret questions, or other information to increase remote access security.
- You can also use Transparent Data Encryption or TDE, which IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle actively deploy to encrypt their database files. TDE can be used to prevent potential cybercriminals from circumventing the data bank and interpreting delicate information right from storage. A complete guideline is available online on Microsoft’s website that offers you a step-by-step process to apply TDE for your organization.
These are just a few tactics that your organization can implement for additional remote access security levels for remote workers.
However, there are also various other techniques that managers and the IT security team can look into.
These techniques include:
- Signing out remote users when browsers are closed.
- Preventing password autocompletes for a remote worker.
- Restricting access on local networks.
2. Carry out risk assessments
Another practice you can follow to supplement your remote work security is to carry out a cyber security risk assessment.
Here’s a simple guideline to help you manage cyber security risks:
- Identify critical information technology assets for your company and their impact on business operations.
- Pinpoint the top five business processes that require or utilize information.
- Categorize any security threat that adversely affects those business functions and halt their operations.
- Tackle the highest priority security risk by prioritizing the most hazardous risk first. Prioritizing assets can include data, functional requirements, hardware, information storage, interfaces, software, remote users, and so on.
- Prepare for threats such as accidental human interference, malicious interception (classical hacking), natural disasters, social engineering attacks or impersonation by a malicious actor, and system failure, to name a few.
- Recognize vulnerabilities through audits, automated vulnerability scanning tools, information ST&E (security tests and evaluation) procedures, penetration testing techniques, and system software security analysis.
- Scrutinize and analyze security controls where technical and nontechnical controls can be further classified as detective or preventive controls.
- Regulate the likelihood of an incident to assess the probability of a vulnerability that can be exploited.
- Gauge the impact of a security threat considering the sensitivity of the system and its pertaining data.
- Recommend applicable regulations and organizational policies and their feasibility, reliability, and overall safety.
- Maintain documentation of all results in a cyber security risk assessment report to make informed decisions regarding budget and other policies.
3. Improve device security measures
Companies might have to undertake work device security measures or otherwise face security issues for employees in a remote working setting.
That’s why, in many cases, a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy involving a personal device can pose some serious threats.
So what can you do instead?
As a company, you can take a security measure like providing encrypted devices for your employees. Since these devices can be kept secure and maintained by the company, it can eliminate the security risk of remote working.
You can also maintain a blocklist and allowlist of applications to keep your workforce aware of what software they can use. Secondly, your IT department must carry out periodic device scans and updates.
Additionally, you can obligate remote working employees to always stick to private and secured Wi-Fi networks instead of public Wi-Fi. A DMS (Document Management System) is another security measure you can implement so that your remote workforce can keep their files on the cloud, thereby lowering the risk of loss from a corporate network attack.
However, there is still much room available for keeping devices secure in a telework culture that your IT personnel can further identify.
4. Use asset management tools
In general, asset management tools are applications that can help you record and track an asset through its entire lifecycle, starting from its procurement to its final disposal.
As a result, organizations can locate assets, determine who is currently using them, how they are being utilized, and additional details about the asset.
In the case of remote work security, your company must implement an asset management tool as it offers you effective tracking of the company’s assets — giving supervisors and management greater visibility of company-owned assets.
Some popular asset management tools are:
- AssetExplorer, by ManageEngine, offers a web-based ITAM (IT Asset Management) software.
- IBM Maximo EAM (Enterprise Asset Management) is more than a CMMS (Computerized maintenance management system).
- Infor EAM is a 21st-century solution for industry-specific concerns.
- Oracle EAM is a part of Oracle’s E-Business Suite.
- SAP EAM for maximizing the value of physical assets for an organization.
In fact, with the help of asset management tools, your security professionals would also be able to map software assets, locate company-owned devices, and even track down traditional and non-traditional IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
5. Invest in IoT & remote work security
To establish healthy remote work security, you need to focus on IoT. These connected Internet of Things and devices have to be secured.
Each device must be granted a unique identifier so that it gains the ability to connect and transfer data over a protected corporate network.
One of the basic issues with IoT is that many of them aren’t built to handle or manage advanced security features. Then there is also the lack of industry-accepted standards, which makes the use of IoT even more alarming.
To combat this, several services out there offer you solutions to make your IoT more secure. Some examples include Thales, Kaspersky, etc.
6. Ensure remote network and endpoint security
Granting your employees remote access enables them to connect to a corporate network from any geographical distance.
However, this is where your managers and IT professionals need to ensure that such remote access is authorized and completely secure.
While using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is recommended, there have been instances where a malicious actor has gained access to a VPN. This is especially a concern for those VPNs that use legacy firewalls.
What can you do then?
You can enable network segmentation, Layer 7 access control, patch internal servers, and leverage advanced threat prevention capabilities such as antivirus to block exploitation attempts.
Here are some more tips for you to follow:
- Carry out endpoint device protection—secure entry points of end-user devices such as desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.
- Utilize EPP (Endpoint Protection Platforms) to examine every file entering the network and harness cloud solutions for an ever-growing database of threat information.
- Deploy the EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) component. These allow for more protection against advanced threats like polymorphic attacks, zero-day attacks, and ransomware attacks (malware).
- Implement XDR (Extended Detection and Response) that not only protects endpoints but also helps you to apply analytics across all of your data.
Your endpoint security software should have key components to make your networks and devices secure. These can include machine-learning classification to detect zero-day threats near real-time and advanced protection from a ransomware attack and antivirus to detect and protect an endpoint device and operating system from malware.
It should also offer you proactive web security to ensure safe browsing along with data classification and data breach prevention.
Lastly, it should contain email and disk encryption to prevent data exfiltration. Your endpoint security software is essential as it offers your remote team an email gateway to block phishing attacks.
Here are some of the best-hosted endpoint protection solutions available that may pique your interest:
- Bitdefender GravityZone Ultra
- ESET Endpoint Protection Standard
- F-Secure Protection Service for Business
- Sophos Intercept X Endpoint Protection
7. Vet all vendors
Vendor screening is an important process through which a business can determine the safety of vendors an organization may deal with to carry out business operations.
To do this, you can:
- Hire vendors with as much diligence as hiring an employee.
- Consider legal and regulatory implications.
- Demand for written contracts on vendor performance.
- Quickly look over the analytics to see if their performance matches their claims.
8. Provide regular cybersecurity training to employees
In a recent study published by Small Biz Trends, only 31% of employees receive annual company-wide training or updates regarding cybersecurity.
As a company, you should invest in their training since your remote workforce is an undeniable asset — and without their proper training, there will always be vulnerabilities within the system.
You should prioritize cybersecurity training to help employees recognize phishing and social engineering attacks by malicious actors.
For starters, here are some tips:
- Train employees to check for name spoofing and the email address whenever a sender makes an unusual or unexpected request.
- Ensure that the email format is correct and see if anything is off about it.
- Instantly inform managers and IT professionals if someone asks for key information like logins or credentials.
- Always scan attachments before opening them.
It would be best to consider making cybersecurity part of your onboarding process.
Conducting a ‘Live Fire’ practice attack will also train them and greatly strengthen your remote work security.
This exercise can be performed once every quarter. It will help employees understand the importance of cybersecurity and keep them on their toes to remind them of new attacks.
You should also educate employees about best password practices, the potential cost of a data breach, and recognize a phishing attack.
9. Prepare a security response plan
Having an incident response plan is crucial. It adds to your team’s preparedness in case of a virus outbreak or cyber attack.
Your security response plan should include:
- Preparation stage to review and codify the underlying security policy that informs your incidents response plan.
- Identification to detect deviations from normal operations in the organizational system.
- Containment where the immediate goal is to contain the incident from further damages.
- Eradication where your team must identify the root cause and remove threats.
- Recovery where your team brings production systems back online carefully.
- And lastly, lessons learned to remind the team about the incident and retain whatever information possible for preparing them in the future.
10. Formulate an all-encompassing data security policy
Data protection policies ensure that concerns about the privacy of a company’s information are important and can even lead to termination if one acts against compliance requirements.
That’s why you must create an all-inclusive and comprehensive data security policy for remote workers to follow.
It should include:
- Acceptable use of IT systems and devices.
- Duty and responsibility for the confidentiality and safeguarding volatile information.
- General practices, rules, and regulations to maintain information security.
- Risk management, records management, and retention.
- Reviewing data processing practices and accountability of each employee.
- Training and supervision of staff in handling personal data.
In the EU, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and PECR (Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulation) govern data protection and privacy in the European Economic Area.
However, there is no single but numerous data protection legislation that is jumbled up and enacts data protection on federal and state levels in the US.
The Federal Trade Commission can be considered a good source of information on current data laws that are being regulated and considered under the jurisdiction of legislation.
However, it is imperative to note that remote work security for each organization may differ from one another. So, each data policy should consider the organization’s culture, operation, and size appropriate for the staff to follow and be easy to implement.
11. Focus on data-centric security
Data-centric security is an approach that emphasizes data itself rather than the security of applications, networks, or servers.
Data-centric security helps you eliminate gaps and keep sensitive information protected wherever it’s shared within your remote workforce.
To implement a comprehensive data security strategy, you should consider using:
- Data discovery tools to gain visibility to sensitive data — both on-premises and on the cloud. It is a business user-oriented process for detecting patterns and outliers through applied and guided analytics.
- Data governance to monitor the remote access of structured and unstructured data. Monitoring access helps identify violations against company policies and validate a company’s regulatory compliance.
- Tools and policies that facilitate data classification to separate valuable information from less valuable information.
- Data watermarking and tagging for security classification and protection of intellectual properties owned by the company.
- Data loss prevention systems to enforce your data security policies.
- Encryption strategies to render protected data useless in the event of a data breach.
- Enhanced gateway controls to limit unauthorized data exfiltration.
- IAM (Identity & Access Management) to ensure that only the right people can secure access to the right information.
- Cloud solutions like CASBs (Cloud Access Security Brokers) to provide better access control and multifactor authentication.
And finally, you must stress the importance of continuous education of staff and workers regarding data protection strategy as humans are often the weakest link in overall remote security systems.
12. Encrypt data for added remote security
Data encryption involves translating data into another form, such as a code, so only those with access to a security key can read it.
Some of the best data encryptions globally include RSA and AES encryption.
The RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) encryption algorithm is considered incredible because it supports great key lengths such as 2048 and 4096-bit keys. It’s also an asymmetric algorithm, which means there are two separate encryption keys.
On the other hand, AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is widely considered invulnerable to all cyber attacks except brute force, which consists of an attacker submitting many passwords or passphrases for eventually guessing the correct answer.
However, businesses can also use free and paid encryption software and tools for their remote workforce, including AxCrypt, CertainSafe, CryptoExpert, Folder Lock, and VeraCrypt.
Remote work security: 3 best practices for employees
Here are three best security practices employees can follow to ensure optimal remote work security:
1. Keep systems updated
Many harmful attacks often seek to exploit vulnerabilities in common applications, including operating systems and browsers.
System updates allow bridging the gap and closing down such loopholes, thus making them less vulnerable. This is why companies must deploy best practices for employees to keep their software up to date.
Software updates also include additional features that are enhanced from the previous release. It can make your remote employees more productive and improve their work experience.
2. Look beyond the firewall
A firewall allows you to monitor and control incoming and outgoing traffic, and as such, it is a network security system designed to prevent unauthorized access.
While we’re not stating that a company should not use a firewall, we think that it’s high time enterprises start thinking beyond firewalls.
Firewalls are no panacea, and therefore vulnerable systems can allow hackers to bypass firewalls and put companies at risk of being hijacked. So if you seriously want to improve remote work security, you must seek additional protection.
Some of the basic problems for relying heavily on simple firewall protection include:
- Becoming a suspect to social engineering, including phishing attacks.
- Coming across malicious websites that are disguised by an SSL certificate
- Lastly, there is always the probability of human error and insider threat.
In the wake of such concerns, your company needs to act proactively.
You can consider using SSL VPN to access internal corporate resources and only open ports 100% critical for business.
You can also add DNS-layer network security. OpenDNS is an American company that deals with Domain Name System resolution services that come in handy.
3. Look out for phishing emails
Cybercriminals can target employees to share data and login credentials, usually through instant messaging or email.
Phishing emails can also lure employees into providing sensitive information like banking, credit card, and passwords.
Although remote security measures can help employees in most of these cases, phishing defense can only work if employees proactively watch out for them.
According to current trends following the Covid pandemic, the future of corporate work is bound to see a lot of remote work and telework culture, along with an abundance of a hybrid workforce.
Hence remote work security is something that corporations can’t afford to overlook.
With these tips and guidelines, we hope to help you and your remote workforce achieve business continuity and follow through with a safe and protective remote work environment.