When COVID-19 struck at the beginning of 2020, companies all over the world were forced to send their employees home to work remotely. This meant that the companies had to rush to give the employees access to all the tools they would need to facilitate smooth transitioning. But after everyone settled in, it quickly became apparent to many employers how productive and focused working from home could actually be. But despite all the convenience, and the progress being made, working remotely has also exposed a range of cyber-security risks both to employees and businesses.

The era of remote working

Remote working brings a myriad of risks, especially considering that the employees rely on their home networks, as well as their devices to complete tasks. As an employer, you’d better hope that the employees have some technical skills, as they may be experiencing some technical problems while at home, and your IT support team can only do so much. According to a recent study, over 60% of remote workers all over the country experienced some technical issues of some sort, where over 40% of those employees had to wait for over three hours for the problem to be resolved. But whatever happens, remote working is here to stay, and companies that are prepared to proceed with it, even after the pandemic is over have to ensure that the remote working practices are in order and that they lay down effective procedures to mitigate technical and security issues, including cyber security. You may have escaped unscathed in the last couple of months, but remember, it only takes one mistake for everything to crumble down.

Cyber security is a real threat, not only to remote workers, but to the company as a whole, and has become more prevalent during the pandemic era. The key issue here is that, in the workplace, the IT team is able to take care of any cyber security threats within the office. But when it comes to remote working, the IT staff are no longer there, and that means the employees will have to pay more attention to the cyber security threats themselves. It’s not that easy, but with our guide, you will at least have an idea of what is required of you to stay protected from these threats.

Cyber security risks associated with remote working

Home setups are often insecure

A home setup comprises of devices used to access company data and network connection, where in most cases, the setup may have insufficient security. For instance, rarely do you find defence-in-depth approaches such as antivirus solutions, VPNs, firewalls, as well as intrusion prevention systems – all of which are found in a corporate office – in a home setup. And you can’t expect that a company will enforce such security measures in residential environments. In effect, the possibility of a breach occurrence or compromise of authentications when accessing the company’s systems increases dramatically.

The use of multiple devices by the employees

While at home, the employees tend to use more than one device to access important information and for other work-related reasons. Even though they may not realise it, them using multiple devices complicates any efforts made to protect data given that every device acts as a potential entry for system threats. Let’s say that the company has done its bit to try to secure the employee’s laptop, the possibility of the employee using his or her smartphone to access company information is still very high, and it’s through that smartphone where the cybercriminals will see an opportunity to compromise the company’s cyber-security posture. This is why the employees are required to observe the predetermined security policies that govern the use of personal devices to access important company information. If no such policies are in place, then the company should at least create employee awareness which will help them to ensure that any device they plan on using on work-related matters is protected, even if it’s through a password mechanism.

Increased online data-sharing

Unlike in an office environment where the employees rely on the secured communication infrastructure and intranets to communicate with each other, interactions in remote setup are increasingly dependent on internet connectivity. This presents a huge risk considering how insecure the public internet can be, with all the malicious actors looking for opportunities to exploit. The connection may contain several loopholes that enable cybercriminals to intercept every piece of data transmitted through the network. So, if you are to ensure that your company’s data is safe, you will need to think of a more secure approach to data sharing, such as secured applications for sharing files, sending and receiving emails, or even using secure VPNs.

Logistical issues that hamper IT support

All employees, whether working on-site or remotely, often requires IT support, especially considering the diverse security issues they face in their work. But in the case of remote employees, the distance and other logistical challenges do prevent the IT team from providing efficient assistance. For instance, when there is data theft or the internet connection has been breached, the IT support team may not be able to prevent the attack if the employee is working at home, which could easily lead to devastating results.

How do you stay safe when working from home?

Use internet security and antivirus software at home

One of the most effective security solutions in remote working is investing in a comprehensive antivirus suite for your employees. The estimated global damage resulting from cybercrime is estimated to be running into billions every year, and the bad news is, due to the remote working dynamic plus the use of home internet networks, which can be easily manipulated by criminals, this figure is expected to increase in the coming years. This means that you will be left exposed to ransomware attacks, malware, spyware, DDOS attacks, and other types of breaches. But with an antivirus suite, you will be protected from a host of these threats and will guarantee that your work will flow uninterrupted. Some of the antivirus programs even update themselves and runs discreetly in the background, so they won’t disrupt your work.

Family members should stay away from your work devices

As an employer, of course, you will trust your employees to keep themselves safe online while working at home. Well, it is also worth remembering that in those homes, there are children and other family members, which means the work computers will be exposed to many other hands. So, it is always important to remind your employees to keep their devices safe and to never allow family members to access them. Also, using passwords on all these devices will certainly come in handy in limiting access to sensitive files.

Think of sliding a webcam cover

While working at home, of course, you will need to keep in touch with the employees, where they update you on their work progress and also hold other consultative meetings with them, which all happen via teleconferences and video calls. This means that a webcam will certainly be needed. However, did you know that savvy hackers can easily hack your webcam without your permission, compromising your privacy in the process? Worse still, if there are any sensitive documents around your workspace, then that means the hackers may be able to view them. So, if your webcam is separate from your device, ensure that you unplug it when not in use. And if it’s built-in, it is important to take extra measures in order to protect oneself – you can’t know for sure when the attack could occur, so you have to be ready at all times. Think of something like a sliding webcam cover that is easy to find, and comes in all shapes, sizes, and colours that perfectly suits your needs. They are actually quite easy to install, as you will find most of them comes with an adhesive layer that fits around your webcam perfectly.

Use a VPN

Working remotely often means connecting the employee’s computer with the company’s VPN (Virtual Private Network). This, however, creates a ‘back door’ through which the hackers could exploit in order to gain access. This means you ought to strengthen your VPN if you are to prevent attacks from happening in the future. To enhance VPN security, you will need to use the most robust possible authentication method. In most cases, VPNs rely on a username and a password, but it’s might be time to think of upgrading to the use of smartcards or even enhancing the encryption method. The thing is though, however strong your VPN actually, it will be of no use if the employee’s password gets compromised, as it will give the hackers an easy way in. So, always remind your employees to keep updating their passwords. Also, they should always use VPN when it’s needed, and switch it off once they are done. Moreover, while working from home, of course, the employees will be using their home networks plus also internet connections, so, you can as well teach them how to configure their routers and personal firewalls to enhance security.

Consider a centralised storage solution

If you rely on cloud or server storage, all the remote employees need to be aware of this, and if you feel like they are not, and are storing files locally, then you should ensure they are familiar with the centralised service. This way, even if the local files were to get lost or destroyed, or maybe even compromised, you will have a backup ready. With this method, you won’t have to worry about the safety of the critical files as they will be superbly protected by the firewall attached to your storage system.

Secure your home wifi

Strengthening the Wi-Fi network security in a home office is one of the simplest ways to guarantee cybersecurity for remote workers, and achieving it only takes a pretty simple process. First, you ensure that you create a super-strong password. Never rely on the automatic password that comes with your router. Pick a password that’s difficult to guess, and can also choose a unique name that third parties would have a tough time guessing. Secondly, ensure that you enable network encryption, which can be done on your wireless configuration page. There are a number of security methods to choose from, including WEP, WPA, and WPA2, where WPA2 is the strongest. Thirdly, you can also limit network access to particular MAC addresses. You see, every device that connects your Wi-Fi has a unique MAC address, and there are those addresses you should only allow to connect and those not to. All this will be set on your router’s settings. Basically, you need to close down all the ‘doors’ a tech-savvy hacker could exploit.

Stay vigilant on email scams

As sending emails is one of the easiest and commonly used communication methods between colleagues, it is also one of the easiest methods that could be exploited or compromised by hackers. So, you also need to be protected on that front. First, ensure that the emails can be accessed through the company’s VPN, as it creates an encrypted network connection that not only authenticates the device or the user from whom the email is from but also encrypts the data in transit. Secondly, since devices can be stolen or lost at any time, ensure that your employees’ devices encrypt data whenever the device ‘sleeps’. This will ensure that in the event the device is lost or stolen, the emails won’t be accessed. Lastly, you have to be aware of phishing attacks, which are prevalent these days.

Final thought

Cyber security is becoming increasingly important for remote employees. With the rise in this trend, companies are recognising their responsibility to protect these individuals and provide a safe work environment.

As more people embrace working remotely or freelance living, it’s up to employers and workers alike not only be aware of cyber risks but also take precautions so everyone can feel secure while staying connected 24/7!

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