How to Secure Your Remote Workforce: Best Practices for Managing Cybersecurity Risks

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive shift in the way we work, with millions of employees now working from home full-time or part-time. This new reality creates a challenge for organizations, including ensuring the security of sensitive data and maintaining business continuity. The biggest challenge posed by remote work is cybersecurity, because employees now access company networks and sensitive information from personal devices and unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Increased Use of Personal Devices

One of the challenges posed by remote work is the use of personal devices. With employees now working from home, they use personal laptops, smartphones, and tablets to access company networks and data. While these devices are convenient, they are often less secure than the computers provided by the company and might not have the necessary software and security measures in place. These devices make it easier for cybercriminals to gain access to sensitive information, because these devices might be vulnerable to malware, phishing attacks, and other types of cybercrime.

To mitigate this risk, organizations must have a “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy in place that describes the required security measures when using personal devices to access company networks and data. These measures can include using antivirus software, applying software updates on a regular basis, and backing up important data to a secure location. Additionally, organizations must provide access to company resources only through secure, encrypted channels, such as a virtual private network (VPN).

Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Another challenge posed by remote work is the increased use of unsecured Wi-Fi networks. With employees now working from coffee shops, parks, and other public spaces, they are more likely to connect to Wi-Fi networks that are not secure. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks create risk because cybercriminals can easily intercept unencrypted data transmitted over these networks.

To address this issue, organizations should advise employees to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks and to use a VPN when accessing company resources from home or public spaces. A VPN encrypts all data transmitted between the device and the VPN server, making it more difficult for cybercriminals to intercept sensitive information. Additionally, organizations should provide employees with secure, encrypted devices for use in  public spaces.

Increased Risk of Phishing Attacks

Another challenge posed by remote work is the increased risk of phishing attacks. With more employees now working from home, employees are likely to be targeted by phishing attacks designed to trick them into revealing their login credentials or other sensitive information. These attacks can be especially effective when sent to employees’ personal email accounts, which may be less secure than their work email accounts.

To help employees identify and avoid phishing attacks, organizations can provide regular security training on phishing attacks and how to identify them. Training should emphasize how to verify the source of an email before responding to it and can include simulations of phishing attacks so that employees can practice identifying attacks. Additionally, organizations should have a process for reporting phishing attacks and suspicious emails.

Best Practices for Securing a Remote Workforce

To secure a remote workforce, organizations should implement the following best practices:

  1. Multi-Factor Authentication: Multi-factor authentication requires employees to provide two or more forms of identification when accessing company resources. Identification can include something employees know, such as a password, something they have, such as a smartcard, or something they are, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition. Multi-factor authentication ensures that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive information and reduces the risk of data breaches. Multi-factor authentication is particularly important for remote workers who may be using unsecured networks or personal devices that do not have the same level of security as company-provided devices.
  2. Regular Software Updates: Software updates often include security patches and bug fixes that can mitigate the risk of cyberattacks. Regular software updates  ensure that all employees are using the most up-to-date versions of software and that vulnerabilities are quickly addressed. Organizations should have an update policy that requires employees to install updates as soon as they become available.
  3. Virtual Private Network (VPN): A virtual private network (VPN) provides a secure connection between a remote worker’s device and the company’s network. VPNs   protect sensitive information from unauthorized individuals and mitigate the risk of data breaches. A VPN ensures that remote workers use a secure connection when accessing company resources, even when using public Wi-Fi. Organizations should require only VPN access for all remote workers and ensure that the VPN solution is configured and managed securely.
  4. Cybersecurity Awareness Training: Cybersecurity awareness training helps employees understand the risks associated with remote work and to recognize potential cyber threats. Training should be delivered on a regular basis and should include information on best practices for securing personal devices, using public Wi-Fi networks, and responding to phishing attacks. Organizations should also provide resources and tools to identify, and report suspected cyber threats.
  5. Encryption: Encryption encodes sensitive information, allowing only authorized individuals to unencode the encryptions. Organizations can use encryption to protect data in transit, such as emails and file transfers, and data at rest, such as stored files and backups. Organizations should implement encryptions for all sensitive information and ensure that employees understand encryption and use it effectively.
  6. Secure File Sharing: Secure file sharing ensures that sensitive information is shared only with authorized individuals. Organizations should provide secure file sharing solutions, such as file sharing platforms or cloud-based services, that allow employees to securely share files and collaborate on projects. Organizations should train employees on the importance of using secure file sharing solutions and on how to use these solutions effectively.
  7. Remote Access Monitoring: Remote access monitoring is the process of tracking and monitoring remote access to company resources.  Remote access monitoring can identify potential security threats and prevent data breaches. Organizations should implement remote access monitoring for all remote workers and should have processes in place to quickly respond to potential security incidents. Remote access monitoring should be integrated with other security controls, such as multi-factor authentication and encryption, to provide a comprehensive security solution.
  8. Remote Device Management: Remote device management is the process of managing and securing personal devices. Remote device management includes processes to update personal devices with the latest security patches and software versions. This helps to ensure that personal devices used by remote workers are secure and do not pose a risk to the organization’s network or data. Remote device management should be integrated with other security controls, such as multi-factor authentication, encryption, and secure file sharing, to provide a comprehensive security solution for the remote workforce.

In conclusion, remote work has increased the need for effective cybersecurity to protect sensitive information and prevent data breaches. Organizations can secure their remote workforce by implementing best practices such as multi-factor authentication, regular software updates, VPNs, cybersecurity awareness training, encryption, secure file sharing, remote access monitoring, and remote device management. By taking these steps, organizations can reduce the risk of cyberattacks and ensure the security of their sensitive information and resources.

For information about how top security professionals are securing remote workforces, see 18 Security Pros Share Their Top Tips and Best Practices for Securing A Remote Workforce.