Shifting to Permanent Remote Work? 3 Cybersecurity Practices to Keep in Mind
Is your company ready for work-from-home? Although you may have recently made the abrupt leap to remote working to protect the well-being of your customers and colleagues, many organizations have found that work outside of the office has been more successful than they imagined. Prior to shelter-in-place, approximately 80% of employees stated their interest in more flexible work benefits—even if it meant a reduction in their wages.
In many ways, the past few months have only accelerated a workforce that was already trajected to radically flourish. And although off-site employment will never be the answer for every single worker, that hasn’t stopped employers and business owners from taking permanent, full-time remote work more seriously. A recent study that polled over 1200 workers found that 20% of those surveyed said their company is discussing methods for making remote work an option in the future.
Employees who have transitioned from your headquarters to their personal office will require a different approach to support from your organization, and there is no place where great support is more needed than your online defense. From a spike in personal device use for business-related activities to increased phishing activity related to the pandemic, there are a number of remote work related concerns that jeopardize confidential company information.
To set up your long-term, off-site working arrangements for equally long-term success, consider these cybersecurity best practices.
Provide End-Users with Secure Technologies
When it comes to cyber defense, your company’s critical information is only as secure as your weakest link. More often than not, the people most susceptible to malware, phishing scams, DDoS attacks, and other online breaches are your end-users, or the employees who interface with your digital technology suite on a daily basis. A study from 2018 discovered that carelessness and user error contributed to a quarter of all data breaches in the United States.
Many organizations start their preventative measures by equipping their remote employees with the tools they need to identify and avoid criminal activity online. The first and most apparent step is classes or certifications that aim to raise employee awareness around cybersecurity. Companies that have invested in cybersecurity awareness training are liable to experience a 70% reduction in online security risks compared to businesses lacking a formal training program.
Likewise, you need to validate that the tools you provide your remote end-users and delivery teams are designed with security as a top priority. Too often, work teams are forced to choose between the security of their technology stack and user experience—where ease of use comes at the expense of cyber defense or visa versa. As you review the existing tools your remote team has chosen or seek out new solutions, remember to consider both intuitive user interfaces and cybersecurity.
Additionally, you want to make sure that the communication tools being used are just as secure as the hardware your teams are using them on. For example, your employees should be able to share data with each other online without fear of sensitive information being vulnerable to attack. A document management system known for its security allows disparate team members to collaborate with each other without compromising company files.
Secure video conferencing is the ideal platform for real-time communication with one or more team members. The software you choose should have intuitive collaboration tools for your employees to use, while still offering security features like password protection and random meeting name generation to keep unwanted visitors out.
Lastly, managed data systems provide a cybersecurity-friendly platform for accessing virtual desktops and applications—while simultaneously allowing you customization opportunities for your cybersecurity strategies.
Mobile Device Management
How will you continue to monitor company technology when remote employees are using it outside of your headquarters? Mobile device management, or MDM, is a component of cybersecurity that organizations seldom consider until they have implemented remote work—but that doesn’t make it any less important.
In essence, mobile device management is a technology that enables distributed IT support teams to control, monitor, and secure company devices. This includes everything from automated software updates for applications to factory-resetting wipes in cases of stolen property.
MDM becomes increasingly important as employees become more comfortable accomplishing work through their personal smartphones or on public Wi-Fi networks. Already, 61% of the Gen Y workforce believes that their personal technology is better equipped to handle the demands of their jobs than those their employers supply them, and a roughly equivalent percentage uses their smartphones for work-related activities.
Configuring your remote workforce through MDM software is especially valuable if you, like many business leaders, found yourself making an abrupt shift to distanced working. This is because you can execute mobile device management from anywhere in the world and register the specific devices your individual employees prefer to use. A great mobile device policy will consequently support BYOD, or bring your own device, efforts as employees work from their home offices, on-site premises, and business travel on the road.
Create Your Remote Policy with Cybersecurity in Mind
Working from home is only as conducive to productivity and efficiency as your policies allow it to be. The typical off-site employee manual might include sections on eligibility (at what seniority level employees are allowed to work), hourly restrictions (including the maximum number of hours and at what times employees can work outside of the office), and communication expectations (how often and by what means employees should touch base with higher ups and colleagues). But your employee handbook can also be an opportunity to establish some guiding cybersecurity principles that remote workers are expected to follow.
In 2016, only 58% of businesses worldwide admitted to having a security strategy, and that number is likely even lower when considering organizations that actually wrote down these strategies for company posterity. Although you may find it tedious, recording your cybersecurity policies is valuable for a number of reasons: it reinforces a culture of accountability, standardizes practice across departments and leadership levels, and encourages widespread communication while adapting to new changes.
Here are a few lines you might consider including in your remote working handbook:
- Unsecured wireless—Should your remote employees refrain from working at coffee shops, parks, or other locations with unsecured public Wi-Fi?
- Download approval—Do remote workers need authorization from IT support before they download any software from the internet?
- Password complexity—Are there any guidelines for the length and character variety of passwords for business-related accounts?
- Cybersecurity training—How often will you require recertification for remote staff?
- Personal vs professional—Have you outlined to your employees your restrictions on what devices they are allowed to use during their work hours?
By keeping these policies, strategies, and best practices in mind, you’ll be better suited to balance both the rising wave of interest in flexible work environments and the cybersecurity that helps protect these employees.
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