Having a borderless, telecommuting workforce can bring clear advantages to small businesses. Remote workers are typically more cooperative, while also being cost-effective and productive. However, the challenge lies in the fact that with geographically diverse teams, sensitive data is frequently being transferred outside the office and across various devices, often with inadequate security measures.
When collaborating with employees who are located remotely, businesses must be extremely careful about the technology and security measures they employ. Now, let’s examine the significant data security issues that small businesses should anticipate when working with staff who are not restricted by physical boundaries.
1. Reduced Security on BYOD and Mobile Devices
With the constant evolution of cybersecurity, businesses now face an ongoing threat rather than a mere challenge. In this ever-changing environment, the complexity increases twofold when data is accessed beyond the office premises. Within the office, employees typically rely on secure designated devices that possess both physical and electronic layers of protection.
Employees who choose to work remotely frequently rely on their personal devices and public Wi-Fi networks. This practice can leave their important data vulnerable to various threats, presenting a significant risk to data security. As stated by CSO Online, a large percentage of phishing attacks in the past year occurred outside of email platforms, taking place in text messages or through applications such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, games, and various social media services.
2. Tracking and Managing Assets on the Cloud
The quality of asset management greatly affects the overall productivity and efficiency of a business, regardless of the industry. Even if a business operates without physical assets and relies on remote teams, particularly in technology-based sectors, the IT assets they possess (including software, data, and other vital business information) hold significant value and require protection against various threats.
The protection and management of market research, reports, business ideas, and visual assets like logos and brand names are vital for businesses, especially small ones that heavily invest in a single significant concept. While asset management is more straightforward within a restricted workspace, it becomes a complex task when data is shared among employees through a global network of devices outside a physical office.
3. Inadequate Backup and Recovery Systems
Remote employees who use their personal devices often lack sufficient backup and recovery options in the event of accidental data loss. Many companies neglect to address this issue properly until a problem arises.
Think again if you’re a business owner who believes that “this could never happen to me.” Consider these 7 statistics on data loss.
The issue becomes more noticeable when remote employees use a single device for both work and personal purposes, often confusing personal and business information, making both vulnerable. Thus, if an employee’s laptop fails as a result of a harmful file downloaded for personal use (for instance, a pirated movie or game), the business data can also be lost. The degree of difficulty in recovering this data depends on how diligently the employee backed up their data.
4. GDPR Compliance
Enforced in May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has rapidly emerged as a significant concern for businesses, necessitating swift adaptations to their operations. Small businesses that hire freelancers and remote staff may encounter greater difficulties in ensuring strict compliance with GDPR regulations. According to the aforementioned Apricorn study, 30% of organizations mandated to adhere to GDPR regulations perceive remote working as the primary area that could potentially lead to non-compliance.
The challenge of achieving GDPR compliance is more significant for SMBs employing remote staff due to a few reasons. Primarily, there is still a lack of clarity regarding the specifics of GDPR regulations when it comes to employees utilizing BYOD devices, working remotely from home, or traveling. This raises questions about the application of the rules for an American citizen who works for an American company but resides and works remotely within the EU.
Furthermore, it is concerning that data security best practices are often disregarded when individuals are not in a formal office setting. Frequently, employees utilize their personal email accounts to send work-related documents. Additionally, remote workers tend to rely on public Wi-Fi, shared internet connections, or personal hotspots, further exacerbating the issue.
Furthermore, there is a recent cybercrime trend that involves hackers exploiting GDPR to extort non-compliant businesses. This forces these businesses to pay significant ransom fees instead of facing hefty GDPR penalties.
5. Sensitizing Remote Teams to Actually Follow Data-Security Protocols
No matter how much we communicate with our remote employees regarding cybersecurity challenges and their solutions, it would be equivalent to speaking to a brick wall if we are unable to successfully ensure their compliance with the procedures.
Face-to-face business communication is widely acknowledged as superior to any texting technology, regardless of its advanced features. While platforms like email, WhatsApp, and Telegram are great for messaging, they cannot compare to traditional face-to-face conversations, particularly when discussing sensitive matters like business data security.
When managing remote teams, the obvious challenge is the inability to physically sit in the same room as your employees.
Other security challenges for employees who work at home
When working from home, a range of problems may arise.
- Security becomes everyone’s responsibility in the case of remote work, which is not ideal, considering your employees are most likely preoccupied with other aspects of their job rather than security, especially in the absence of security awareness training, security policies and the necessary tools.
- Employees are vulnerable to online scams – dangers of all sorts lurk online and, without the proper security awareness training, your staff can fall victim to any imaginable type of scam, from phishing attacks to fake alerts and ransomware scams. The attackers play-pretend so well that even the biggest names fall for their scams. And this will cost you and your company more than regrets.
- Employees may use unsecured public Wi-Fi when logging onto their work devices, making their sensitive data and, therefore, your company’s sensitive data, much easier to hack into and steal.
- Employees don’t prioritize security as much as they did in a physical office, being more relaxed altogether.
- Security policies might prove more difficult to apply to remote work.
Tips on maintaining security when employees work from home
However, despite how difficult it may seem to establish effective security awareness training, we can still remain optimistic as we guide you through 10 essential remote work security practices to ensure the safety of yourself, your business, and your employees.
1. Update your network’s defenses frequently
In order to ensure the desired protection, all devices utilized by remote staff for accessing company or customer data need to be equipped with robust security measures like antivirus software, firewalls, and spam filtering tools, and should be regularly updated.
2. Secure all internet connections
It is advisable to prohibit the use of unsecured public Wi-Fi. Additionally, inform your employees that using the company’s VPN is mandatory to secure their connection if they choose to use such networks.
3. Set in place and maintain a data security protocol
Internal data breaches occur frequently, even among the most competent individuals, but they typically arise from inadvertent mishandling of sensitive data by employees rather than intentional actions. To minimize this problem, it is recommended that you provide clear guidelines regarding the security policies that employees should adhere to, as well as the repercussions for non-compliance.
4. Provide your staff the necessary tools and technology
Ensure that your employees have access to all necessary resources, such as a VPN, antivirus software, and potentially a password manager, to adhere to the security policies. By providing these tools, they can concentrate on their work without concerns about compliance, resulting in increased productivity.
5. Restrict the use of personal devices
Although the bring-your-own-device policy can offer various benefits for certain companies, it does pose security concerns for remote workers. These individuals might not have password protection or may rely on outdated or unreliable antivirus software. Therefore, it is advisable for employers to mandate the use of company-provided devices for remote employees to ensure optimal security.
6. Implement the Zero Trust approach
Microsoft developed the strategy, which is centered on the fundamental philosophy of never placing trust but instead always verifying the authenticity of identities, devices, and services.
7. Ask your employees to use strong passwords
Advising your staff to be imaginative and utilize a mix of characters is crucial in generating strong passwords, especially considering the common use of passwords like “123456”, “qwerty”, or “password”. The more unusual and unconventional, the more effective. Additionally, it is essential to refrain from reusing passwords.
8. Use at least two-factor authentication
Adding two-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security to the accounts of your company. Safeguarding your data and preventing unauthorized access are of utmost importance.
9. Supervise employees’ remote work behaviors
It is recommended and morally right to inform your employees that their activities are being monitored using the monitoring system they prefer, in order to ensure their adherence to the established security policy.
10. Provide your employees with strong IT support and security awareness training
Solid remote security measures are established on the basis of effective security awareness training.
It is crucial for your business to prioritize providing excellent security awareness training, particularly for remote employees, as it could potentially be the key to saving your business.
In the present day, thanks to technological advancements, individuals have the ability to work remotely from any location across the globe. Particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a significant surge in the number of individuals working from home.
This provided them with the opportunity to achieve a better equilibrium between work and personal life (after all, who wouldn’t enjoy working in their cozy pajamas and having unlimited access to the refrigerator?), while the employers were able to reduce expenses by not having to pay for office space.