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Protecting your data when staff are working from home

The global pandemic forced many companies to quickly shift their workforces to remote status as governments across the globe enacted stay-at-home orders. Just under half of all employees currently are working from home, with 78% of Australian workers indicating they desire the opportunity to continue with remote work at least some of the time.

Working from home creates the perfect environment for scammers. Targeting remote workers is an easy way to gain access to an organisation’s most sensitive data and information. Hackers and other cyber criminals invade corporate computer systems with the help of unwitting remote workers who may not have the same cybersecurity protections at home as they do while in the office.

Since making the transition to remote working in 2020, cybercrime is up 330%. Those are frightening statistics, especially for small-to-medium-sized businesses who can be financially devastated during a cyberattack or data breach.

With up to 80% of companies continuing to allow remote working in 2021, spammers and scammers are stepping up their attacks on personal devices and home networks. Employers must take action to educate and train their employees on cybersecurity protocols to ensure they are working securely while remote.

Consequences of data breaches

Think your remote workers are protected from cyber attackers and other scammers? Think your business is too small to interest cyber thieves? Think again. Statistics suggest 78% of small-to-medium-sized businesses are targets of hackers and other cybercriminals. Businesses who think they can get away with lax security policies because of their size are often making a costly mistake. There are consequences of failing to have proper security and training for remote workers who are handling sensitive customer data and other proprietary information, including:

  • Loss of intellectual property and other proprietary information. Scammers know exactly which information reaps the most rewards on the dark web and work hard to exploit remote workers and under-protected networks to get it. When that proprietary information includes sensitive data about your clientele, it can also cause trust issues. Businesses can and do lose clients over data breaches and may face lawsuits depending on the severity of the breach and the data leaked.
  • Brand reputation loss. Short-term revenue is not the only concern when your organisation suffers a data breach. Your customers value their privacy. When data breaches include their sensitive information – emails, phone numbers, social security numbers, financial records – they will be hesitant to continue placing their trust in your business. Prospective clientele also will be leerier of doing business with a brand that has suffered an extensive cyberattack.
  • Financial loss. Significant revenue loss always is a possibility when systems are breached. Not only can you lose clients over data breaches, but you also risk having significant downtime while IT works to secure your network and restore services. During that time, remote workers are unable to go about their daily tasks. Other hidden costs that can surmount quickly include regulatory fines and legal fees if client data was exposed.

Your biggest risks (and how to avoid them)

While remote employees pose a huge threat to any network’s security, your risks can be seriously decreased by following cybersecurity best practices. These practices are designed to provide added protection against hackers and other cyber thieves.

Here are some of the most common work-from-home cybersecurity risks and what your organisation can do to help safeguard against them.

Risk #1: Phishing Schemes

The risk: Phishing schemes involve a person or entity posing as a legitimate business associate or vendor. Phishing usually occurs via email and tries to trick a worker into providing personal login credentials or other sensitive information. It is difficult to blame employees for falling for these kinds of schemes. Cybercriminals have become quite adept at making these phishing emails sophisticated enough that they are difficult to detect. Phishing emails that get past email filters and end up in inboxes are more likely to be opened, increasing the opportunity for scammers to gain access to valuable information. If a remote worker is fooled, they can give a cyber thief everything they need to hack into accounts to steal sensitive data or engage in identity fraud.

The solution: Comprehensive employee training on the detection and avoidance of phishing schemes is your best defence. From new hires to seasoned employees, a cybersecurity awareness training program should be available at all levels of employment within your organisation.

Risk #2: Passwords

The risk: Using a VPN or firewall is not a guarantee that your system is safe if remote workers are using weak passwords to gain access to your company’s server. Exploiting human error is a tactic many hackers use because it is effective. They know that 95% of all cyber incidents are related to human error. It is easier for them to exploit remote workers than it is to get past sophisticated security software, so they target the weakest link in the chain.

The solution: Password policies and/or two-factor authentication are your best bet. Password policies and verification processes do not have to be painstakingly complicated to be smart.

A solid password policy includes banning the use of personal information in passwords, using unique passwords for each account, and requiring remote workers to frequently change passwords (password expiry dates). Passphrases – random groups of words strung together – are the most difficult for hackers to breach. Consider incorporating them instead of passwords with numbers, letters, and symbols.

Alternatively, or in addition, implement two-factor authentication (2FA). Most platforms and apps already require users to set up 2FA. Setting up 2FA adds an extra login step either by sending a code to your phone or a fingerprint scan to verify your identify and prevent scammers from accessing private data.

Risk #3: Home Wi-Fi

The risk: Remote workers are logging into your company’s server using their home Wi-Fi network. This poses a host of security issues. Even if your staff are using a company-issued laptop, they are still using it on their home systems, which are not as secure as what they use in-office. One of the biggest reasons for that is updates to home router software, antivirus software, and operating systems often are overlooked by remote workers. Failure to make these critical updates makes home Wi-Fi networks easier to breach.

The solution: Educate remote workers to understand the importance of periodically updating all software used in their work-at-home environments. If your company can afford it, consider providing teleworkers with a firewall that can offer better security for their home Wi-Fi.

IT solutions for remote workers

Do not wait until for your company to suffer crippling security or data breach before consulting with IT specialists who can help keep your sensitive data protected. Your IT team should be able to put processes in place that support and protect your staff and your data wherever they are – especially now flexible working is here to stay.

At Step Fwd IT, our team specialises in IT security, remote support and proactive IT solutions that keep your sensitive data protected while keeping it accessible to remote workers who need it.

To learn more about how to protect your business and the services we offer, click here.