Why IT Security is Important for the Remote Worker
Remote work was once viewed as an occasionally luxury, an employee perk, or a temporary solution. But when the start of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders, it quickly became essential to keeping businesses running. Many months later, it seems what was once a stopgap measure actually marked the beginning of a paradigm shift. As employees continued to do their jobs efficiently and effectively from remote locations, some companies began to view the work-from-home model as longer-term, while others embraced a hybrid model in which employees split time between home and office.
While there are many benefits to remote work for both employer and employee, there are some downsides as well – and one of those is the need to provide IT services to a remote workforce. Some employees are more tech savvy than others; some can work through technical issues while others are the reason the PEBCAK (problem exists between chair and keyboard) error was invented. Take those workers and the technology they need to do their jobs off-premise and you’ve got some problems — mainly security.
Remote workers scattered all over, running a combination of personal and company devices and software from their home Wi-Fi connections, can be a nightmare for IT service providers who want to keep their networks safe. A recent report by VMWare shows 97% of organizations in the U.S. had experienced a data breach as a result of a cyberattack in the past 12 months, and 88% of North American respondents said they had seen an increase in overall cyberattacks as a result of employees working from home. Let’s face it – your network is only as secure as the weakest device on it. Here, then, are some things to consider when thinking about keeping your company safe.
Manage the devices
While in the office on a corporate network using company hardware, it’s easy to take security for granted. But once you’ve got remote staff, keeping the IT environment secure becomes a bigger undertaking. One way to ensure consistency is to equip employees with specified equipment — laptops and peripherals like monitors and docking stations, printers and supplies, and even network routers. These devices can be provisioned a few ways to ensure company data is secure.
Encrypting hard drives on laptops before distribution, for instance, protects company data by converting it into a code that can’t be easily deciphered without a key, protecting it against theft via security breaches as well as physical theft of the computer itself. Endpoint protection helps protect and defend against intrusion and, with remote monitoring, allows IT staff to take quick action against cyberattacks. Corporate VPNs can be configured to company standards, allowing administrative control over connections and access. And a company laptop enabled for remote access allows IT to ensure software is up to date and apply patches immediately, mitigating a common cause of data breaches.
Providing remote staff with a preconfigured router is an extra step toward protecting company data. Many home users do not use best practices when configuring their Wi-Fi networks; often default passwords are not changed, firmware isn’t updated, and important settings are ignored – the ability to automatically add new devices, for instance, should be disabled in a security-first configuration. A correctly provisioned router will add a layer of protection to company data and protect more than just the employee’s devices, as a hacker who gains access to a computer running a VPN can get access to the company’s entire network.
Manage the people
Human error is a common factor in many security breaches, so it’s essential all employees are trained on cybersecurity issues. Phishing, always a popular technique for hackers, involves sending texts or emails that look legitimate, with the goal of getting the recipient to offer up some personal information or click on a link that installs malware. Phishing has become even more prevalent during the pandemic, with emails or messages posing as important COVID updates or links to sign up for alerts or assistance. Make sure employees are aware of two things: not to click on any link they are not 100% sure is safe, and to alert the IT department or help desk if they suspect a phishing attempt or other issue.
Password management is another vital piece of the security puzzle. It’s important to set strong password policies requiring numbers, letters and special characters, and to require they be changed periodically. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is highly recommended, but this can meet with some resistance, particularly from less tech-savvy employees. IT staff may need to do a little hand holding by creating how-to documents and videos or working directly with the user via video conference – so having good collaboration software will be a big help.
The distributed workforce seems to be here to stay. Even as businesses reopen and employees can go back to the office, it’s not at all guaranteed that they all will. Technology has created a scenario in which the office can be anywhere – and that’s a great thing. But technology also comes with risks, and to mitigate those risks, security has to be a priority for everyone in an organization.
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