How Firms With a Remote Workforce Can Manage Common Network Security Challenges
In this article, we discuss what businesses can do to better manage security while almost all businesses are operating with a work from home model.
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The concept of remote working isn’t new! Several businesses have been encouraging their employees to work from home for a few days a week as a way of offering them flexibility and helping them balance personal and professional life. However, with COVID-19 coming into the picture, businesses worldwide have completely shifted to remote working.
But remote working hasn’t been a norm for businesses. Hence, most firms and industries were underprepared for this sudden spike in the remote workforce. Not to forget, the cybersecurity concerns that come along with it.
A Wider Security Perimeter to Manage
In traditional office spaces, the IT team has a finite security perimeter for monitoring and managing the workstations of onsite employees. However, with employees connecting to the enterprise network from any location, they have to rely on their own router and wireless network. This has widened the security perimeter for businesses, thereby increasing the security risks.
Most businesses lack the resources and expertise to quickly adapt to the remote working environment and prevent the inevitable security issues.
The Security Risks Accompanying the BYOD Culture
A majority of businesses have adopted the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) culture, as it reduces costs, contributes to employee satisfaction, and boosts productivity. For this reason, nearly 88 percent of IT decision-makers across several countries believe BYOD is a positive move for organizations.
However, BYOD comes along with a variety of network security risks. For instance, a personal device using home Wi-Fi to connect to the enterprise network is a huge risk to business data. Every connected device in the house, from the printer to the other laptops or mobiles, is connected to the same network. All of them may not have the same level of security features. This vulnerability can be easily exploited by a malicious hacker.
The Sudden Increase in Malicious Activities
The current unstable situation caused by the pandemic is being used by hackers and malicious attackers to launch opportunistic assaults, like phishing scams, ransomware, and cybersecurity attacks. According to the World Economic Forum, the COVID-19 pandemic poses a heightened risk of increased cyberattacks as hackers are exploiting people’s increased dependence on digital tools.
Scammers are successfully using the fear and anxiety caused by the outbreak to target remote employees who have minimal cybersecurity resources and knowledge.
Poor Security Awareness and Hygiene
Just because people are working from their homes doesn’t mean they are protected from the common cyberthreats. Remote workers are usually ignorant about these risks and do little to self-educate. Such poor awareness and security hygiene can cause huge cybercrime damage costs for businesses.
Businesses have very little time to train their employees, and cybercriminals can take advantage of this fact. Therefore, it is important to act immediately and take effective measures to train employees to spot phishing attacks, ransomware, and other forms of cybercrimes.
How Can Businesses Stay Protected Against Common Network Security Risks?
Invest in Encryption
Remote devices are susceptible to malware, putting the company network at risk. This is especially true if the device is lost or stolen. Investing in top-quality encryption prevents sensitive information and company data from getting compromised. For instance, using full-disk encryption software can prevent unauthorized access. The software only lets employees who have the key to access the confidential information.
Further, install remote-wipe apps on the mobile devices of your remote employees. These apps ensure that critical company data is erased in case the device goes missing.
Establish Stringent Remote Access Policies
Working from home opens up an endless array of new connections to the enterprise network. Knowingly or unknowingly, this can put your business at a huge network security risk. Therefore, it’s important to have a strong remote access policy in place.
Separate Personal and Professional Data
Issue company devices to ensure that the company and personal data remain separate. For those remote employees using their own devices, employers can use mobile device management (MDM) tools that monitor, manage, and secure remote devices. MDMs offer maximum possible network and web security to all remote devices connected to the enterprise network.
Ban the Use of Unsecured WiFi Connections
Free public Wi-Fi is now a common feature at hotels, cafeterias, and malls. But unsecured wireless connections are the breeding ground for malicious activities. Yet public Wi-Fi usage is rampantly used by most remote employees.
Data from Spiceworks reveals that 61 percent of employees connect their company-owned devices to a public network when working outside of the office.
Ban the use of such unsecured networks. Also, use geolocation to restrict access to the company network from hotels or any other public place. Further, a reliable VPN or virtual private network is a great option for remote working. A VPN service imposes encryption on all the company data moving in and out of remote devices, safeguarding your business from the network risks.
Make it Mandatory to Use Corporate Resources for Various Work-Related Communications
Corporate emails, cloud-drive configured for business, and messaging tools like Slack or HipChat are set up by the IT department and can be effectively controlled by them. Encourage your employees to use these corporate resources for sharing company information and confidential documents.
Educate Employees about the Potential Security Risks
Most employees are unaware of common network security risks. This ignorance could put your business at risk. Make sure all your employees are adequately trained on the latest security measures. For instance, they should know how to identify and treat suspicious emails and links.
Employers should establish regular training and education programs to inform all employees about the security best practices and offer them adequate tools and IT support to work in a secure environment. Further, they should be encouraged to practice adequate security hygiene.
For instance, they should have an updated antivirus solution and use the latest versions of programs and OS. Moreover, they should set a long and complex router password for their home wifi and change it on a regular basis.
Don’t Ignore Endpoint Security
Endpoint security involves securing all the applications, OS, and software used by remote employees. Thus, endpoint security encompasses all the measures taken to secure the local resources, such as installing and updating anti-virus software, installing network firewalls, and updating the OS.
Outdated software and applications can be easily exploited by malicious hackers to launch zero-day attacks, SQL injections, and other forms of cyberattacks. Make sure all your software, browsers, and applications are of the latest version. Install local firewalls and malware scanners on your employees’ devices to prevent unauthorized access and detect issues before it’s too late. Offer an antivirus software license to all your remote employees to improve network security.
Have a Law Enforcement Expert by Your Side
Having a team of seasoned attorneys and prosecutors on board is a proactive approach to safeguard your company against any type of corporate crisis, including network security risks. Dr. Nick Oberheiden, Founder and Attorney, Oberheiden P.C., says, "An able team of law enforcement experts can not only offer you effective legal advice in cases of cybercrime, insider threats, and fraud but also help you manage the ensuing internal corporate investigations and come up with a fitting legal response."
Letting employees work offsite and access the enterprise network from a remote location is something businesses will have to live with at least until the pandemic settles down. Remote working raises several concerns about the enterprise network security. As a result, businesses should establish a robust remote access policy and take proactive measures to prevent issues like identity theft, data breaches, and data loss.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.