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16 August 2022

Managing The Cybersecurity Risks of Remote Work

Learn how to keep yourself (and your company!) safe in a world of remote work.

Ellen Merryweather - Senior Content Manager

This us a guest blog by our friends at Paperform. If you have tech industry knowhow, or the inside scoop on hacking the job hunt, contact [email protected].

All across the globe, companies and governments are quickly taking steps to protect employee and citizen health by encouraging remote working. In 2018 remote work was gaining popularity but still overall uncommon.

But looking through the lenses of the post-pandemic world, we can see that COVID-19 has pushed many individuals and businesses into working primarily from home or shifting to a hybrid model. This has entirely changed the conversations around remote work, with projections showing almost 73% of all departments are expected to have remote workers by 2028. 

Not only does this confirm what we already know about the evolution of remote work, but it also shows that telecommuting will become acceptable in an even wider range of industries. While this is all well and good, improving your cybersecurity is something that’s become necessary now more than ever before.

Remote collaboration between team members is a struggle already let alone when having to deal with the fact they’re always at risk of being cyber-attacked. That’s why it is so important for remote team managers not only to watch remote employee experience but to provide training on cyber-security. 

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the protection of computer systems and networks from potential theft or damage that’s caused to the hardware, software or data held by the individual. As a business, this disruption can cause many problems not just for you but for customer data that you hold confidentially.

To be effective, a good cybersecurity strategy must include multiple layers of security spread across different parts of an organisation’s computer systems, networks, applications, or data. To be successful against cyber attacks, organisations need to have people, processes, and technologies that complement each other.

Cyber risks of remote work

It’s worth understanding just how frequent cyber attacks take place. Proofprint assessed the state of phishing attacks and found that 88% of organisations worldwide experienced spear phishing attempts in 2019.

Cyber attacks vary in their form, whether that be phishing attacks, hacking systems, involving malware, or identity theft. An eye-watering 11,762 breaches have been recorded between January 1st 2005 to May 31st 2020. That’s not including those breaches that haven’t been recorded, of which there could be many more. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of reputational risk in dealing with a breach, and so some companies or individuals may try to avoid mentioning a potential attack.

You’ve also got the physical risk of things becoming compromised, like a laptop being stolen, and so having a good cybersecurity system in place can help put in preventative measures necessary to protect your company. Data leaks and insider threats are also common for businesses, so it’s good to ensure this doesn’t happen in the event of an employee going rogue.

Best Practices for Remote Working Cybersecurity 

Without effective cybersecurity in place, you open your business up to the dangers of hackers and scams. Hackers and scammers have become so advanced in the attack methods that any one of your employees could fall victim to them. So how can you protect your employees?

Physical security

Talking of physical security, it’s good to have security measures in place both for those working from home and on the go remotely. In terms of cyber security, the purpose of physical security is to minimise the risk to information systems and information. Additionally, as digital transformation continues and employees work more and more remotely, the efficiency of the company's physical security measures is reduced. The moment that a device is connected to a shared network, there is a potential risk for a hacker to reach the network, implant malware, steal data or disrupt business operations. 

The more you can educate yourself and your employees on the physical risks of cybersecurity, the better everyone’s awareness and caution will be. Some ways you can do this are: 

  1. Location of work: Locking doors and ensuring you don’t leave your work laptop unattended in public places or in your car is essential.

  2. Only use your company laptop or computer for work: 30-40% of employees' internet activity is non-work related, affecting not only their productivity but cybersecurity. A company laptop should only be used for business, and all personal activity resigned to a different device.

  3. Be wary of the people around you: With remote working, it can be easy to let your guard down, but if anything, there should be more wariness when working in public or on a remote server. The dangers are likely to be increased as a result, and so more care should be taken to protect oneself.

Digital Security

Remote workers depend on various online collaboration tools to be able to maintain the same level of cooperation between team members as they had in the office.While digital tools offer excellent support for remote workers, shifting work patterns on such a massive scale can have serious unanticipated implications for cybersecurity.Is your company adequately prepared for the changes in your cybersecurity risk? 

Digital security is something you always want to keep up to date because cyber attackers never stop improving their methods and ability to hack their victims successfully.

  • Phishing emails: Be mindful of phishing emails. If you see something that looks suspicious, don't open it, delete it immediately, and most importantly, don't download any attachments. 

  • Insecure passwords: Likely, you have already heard not to use an obvious or the same password. But in addition, businesses should install multi-factor authentication passwords to prevent security breaches. 

  • Connect over VPNS: Virtual public networks (VPNs) are similar to firewalls; they allow you to protect the laptop data online while retaining the same functionality and appearance of normal actions. 

  • Log out of your accounts: Making sure you log out of your accounts is good practice, and not saving your passwords to any other computers unless it’s your own.

With work data, make sure you keep it on your work computer and, where possible, avoid public wifi. Unfortunately, public wifi is not as secure as you’d hope it to be. This is all-important when working remotely, especially when working in places like coffee shops and co-working spaces.

Remote work cybersecurity policies

To help avoid these cybersecurity threats happening to your employees, companies should have policies in place that are related to the workforce. This can ensure that all staff have an awareness of safe practices when it comes to using the internet when working remotely. Not only that but being aware of the physical risks that are posed too.

These policies need to be in place so that if a cyber attack does happen, the right form of action can be taken to do as much damage control as possible.

Employee Awareness and Training on Cybersecurity

With human error playing a part in so many security breaches – more than 90%, according to a recent study – it's not surprising that many companies are taking the initiative to train their employees in cybersecurity. 

Cyber security awareness training for employees addresses one of the biggest factors in major security breaches: human error.

The human error refers to unintentional actions (or inaction) by employees and users that lead to, spread or allow a system to be breached. This encompasses a vast range of actions - from downloading a malware-infected attachment to failing to use a strong password - which is part of the reason why it can be so difficult to address. Some of the common types of human error in cybersecurity are either Skill or decision-based errors. Skill-based errors consist of lapses in judgement when performing familiar tasks. On the other hand, decision-based errors are when the employee makes the wrong decisions. Whether that's due to the necessary level of knowledge or lack of information.

Some of the most common human errors are: 

  • Misdelivery: Sending something to the wrong recipient ranks 5th for the most common cause of all cyber security breaches. It's scarily easy for employees to accidentally send confidential information if they're not careful. 

  • Password problems: 123456 still remains the most popular password in the world, and 45% of people reuse the password of their main email on other services. It's not surprising this is one of the main issues. 

  • Not installing the latest security updates as soon as they are available. Unfortunately, most users delay these installations.

  • Physical security: As mentioned in the previous section, more often than not, data breaches happen because unauthorised persons gain access to secure premises. 

By training employees, whether that be through in-person courses, or more in the spirit of remote work, or through a virtual learning environment (VLE) how to recognize and respond to cyber threats, organisations can dramatically improve their security posture and cyber resilience.

Are your remote workers security-safe?

It’s important to take cybersecurity seriously, not just when working remotely but in your company’s typical working environment. Remote work does not have to pose a cybersecurity risk if the correct precautions are taken to prevent it from happening.

About The Author

Kayleigh Berry is an growth marketer at Paperform. Her strong history in psychology, marketing, and creativity, combined with her 100 miles per hour personality, keeps her up to date with all the latest trends in the new and changing digital industry. Outside of work, you’ll find Kayleigh surfing or training her Australian Shepherd puppy.

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