More employees than ever are working remotely at least part-time. At the same time, however, there is increasing awareness among employers and business executives of the security risks posed by remote workers.
For instance, a 2018 study by iPass found that the majority of CIOs suspected their mobile workers had been hacked or caused a mobile security issue in the past year. Another recent study by Shred-it reported that 86% of C-level executives believe the risk of a data breach is higher for remote workers than it is for workers in the office.
So how can organizations make sure remote working doesn’t expose them to a costly data breach? Here are six tips for both employers and employees to help mitigate remote working security concerns.
Avoid Public WiFi
Many remote workers love being able to sit down at a local café, log in to the free public WiFi and get their work done over some fresh coffee and pastries. But connecting to a public WiFi network can leave the user vulnerable to “man in the middle” attacks or session hijacking, potentially compromising their laptop and any sensitive data they may be working with. Make sure your employees know not to connect to any sensitive data or apps when connected to a public WiFi network. Instead, remote workers can access the internet via USB modem or by setting up a password-protected “hotspot” on their smartphone and connecting to that network for internet access. This provides a much better level of security than using a public WiFi network.
Caution with USB Devices
Speaking of USB devices, make sure remote workers are aware of the risks of connecting potentially insecure peripheral devices to their computer or laptop. Using someone else’s memory card or USB stick to move a large file from one laptop to another or letting someone charge a phone by plugging it into a laptop’s USB port can expose the laptop to potent malware. Don’t plug anything into your laptop’s USB port or connect any peripherals that may contain unsafe files or executables.
Virtualize the Remote Computing Environment
Rather than relying on employees to adequately secure their own personal devices, many businesses provide mobile workers with a corporate-owned device they can use to work remotely in an attempt to bolster organizational security. Yet this tactic fails to address the not insubstantial risk that the device itself may be lost or stolen. Many data breaches occur when a laptop is stolen, and information stored on the local hard drive is compromised.
The easiest way to protect against this scenario is to employ a secure desktop and application delivery solution, so that there is no corporate data stored on the portable device. It’s important to note in this context that remote working technologies should be as simple and straightforward as possible to manage and use. Simply put, the easier it is for employees to access their work environment remotely using IT-sanctioned solutions, the better these solutions will be at optimizing both productivity AND security.
Two (or Multi)-Factor Authentication (2FA)
It’s not a good idea to rely on passwords alone to protect your corporate data. People are notoriously lazy when it comes to passwords and will often choose passwords that are easy to remember (and easy to crack), or reuse passwords across applications (so if one is compromised, the hacker will gain access to multiple apps). Moreover, “dark web vendors” have been known to trade in corporate remote access credentials for as little as $3 a pop, making break-ins an attractively affordable option. Two-factor authentication provides a second layer of protection, so that even if a password is compromised, a hacker won’t be able to access the corporate network.
Lock Down the Browser
Another common way that companies get hacked is through employees’ web browsing and email activity. When an employee uses a company-issued laptop or other device to browse to an unsafe website, download an infected file or click on a link in a phishing email, they expose that device – and possibly the entire corporate network – to wily cybercriminals. Organizations can protect themselves against this risk by ensuring that employee web browsing is conducted in a remote, isolated browsing environment, so that if a threat is encountered it cannot infect the endpoint or spread to additional devices.
Solutions such as Remote Browser Isolation (RBI) ensure that all web content is kept safely “at arm’s length”, and then discarded at the end of each browsing session. When paired with CDR-based cleansing of downloaded files, RBI enables organizations to isolate their networks from the dangers of the web, while allowing users to access the sites they need and continue working as they naturally would.
If your laptop starts behaving strangely – running slowly, fan stays on all the time, you notice strange activity when booting up – notify IT right away. Your laptop may have picked up an infection. The sooner such an issue is identified, the less damage it will have done, and the easier it will be to fix.
For many employees, the ability to work remotely is crucial to their productivity and job satisfaction. By taking the right security precautions, working remotely doesn’t have to be any more dangerous to the corporate IT infrastructure than working from the office.