In 2022 alone, there were over 1,800 data compromises in the United States, and more than 422 million people were affected by these data breaches and exposures. With statistics like these, it’s natural for business leaders to have concerns about the security risks associated with remote work. This holds true whether you have a handful of remote workers or a fully distributed team.
Knowing about the top security risks makes it easier to develop strategies for overcoming them and reducing the potential for trouble.
What are the security risks of remote work?
1. Less security oversight
In a traditional office setting, companies generally have an information technology (IT) and cybersecurity team watching over the network and ensuring everyone follows best practices for device usage, file storage and sharing, and sending and receiving messages.
This centralized approach needs to be adapted to suit remote work. Without a visible IT team, workers can become lax in their behavior toward system access and communication. And their home networks probably aren’t as tightly monitored as an in-office enterprise technology environment.
In short, there are a lot of ways security breaches can occur. Make sure your IT department has the resources and support to develop an acceptable use policy for all remote employees and give them the tools they need to work closely with remote employees to improve company cybersecurity.
2. Poor data practices
Even with an acceptable use policy in place, there will always be a risk of employees accessing or downloading sensitive information using local devices and unencrypted methods. This can make sensitive data visible to people outside your company. If your business uses third-party tools to transfer and share files, it’s worth investing in an enterprise tier with end-to-end encryption.
Additionally, talk to remote employees about the risks of sharing sensitive data over unsecured channels and set clear company standards for transmitting and receiving information. These standards may include consequences for non-compliance.
3. Greater risk of phishing attacks
Phishing and email scams remain serious threats, especially in an environment where workers rely heavily on email for asynchronous communication. Remote workers who interact with clients and vendors may be more susceptible to an attack disguised as a legitimate professional email because they get used to seeing messages from outside your organization.
Talk to your employees about phishing attacks so they know how to identify suspicious emails and how to report them to IT. It’s better to take extra time to verify that an email is legitimate and safe.
4. Vulnerable hardware
It’s more common than ever for remote workers to use personal devices, such as a computer and smartphone, for business purposes. A bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy can help your company save money on hardware, but many remote workers don’t have the skills, experience, and knowledge needed to ensure their equipment is properly secured and updated.
Providing remote workers with hardware you can monitor and update remotely is the most secure option because the company retains control of the device. But if you’re comfortable with the BYOD approach, make sure workers have access to a virtual private network (VPN), multi-factor authentication, and clearly defined access levels to various systems and programs.
5. Unsecured networks
Remote workers aren’t always operating out of a home office. They may use unsecured public networks when working from a local coffee shop or library. Even if they’re home, it can be hard to guarantee their Wi-Fi connection is properly secured. This is a serious security risk when workers regularly send and receive potentially sensitive data.
Help remote workers update their home routers to ensure a secure connection or provide access to a VPN.
Security-related questions for remote workers
Now that you understand some of the top security risks of remote work—and how to overcome them—turn your attention to making positive changes within your company.
One of the first steps is to answer security-related questions as they pertain to remote workers. Start with the following:
- Does your company have a formal remote work policy that outlines security requirements for remote workers?
- Does your company provide secure access to corporate networks and systems for remote workers, such as a VPN?
- Does your company require remote workers to use company-issued devices, or can they use personal devices for work?
- Does your company have policies in place for securing company data and information when accessed from remote locations?
- Does your company provide security awareness training for remote workers on how to detect and respond to security threats?
- Does your company monitor remote workers' access to sensitive information and data?
- Does your company require remote workers to regularly update their devices and software to ensure they have the latest security patches and updates?
- What approach do you take to security with remote independent contractors?
As you answer these questions, you can create a list of tasks that require your immediate attention. By addressing these tasks, you’ll quickly improve the overall security of the company.
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