A Remote Workforce is an IT Security Risk. Here’s how to Mitigate that Risk…

It’s no surprise to hear that working remotely (or “teleworking”) is more popular than ever. In fact, there is even some research beginning to indicate that employees who are working remotely are often more productive than those working in the typical office setting. At the end of the day, we could go on and on about the pros and cost of a remote workforce, but the focus of this article is security – namely, the network security risks posed by remote workers. Employees using company computers on unsecured networks, or conversely, BYOD policies that could potentially result in a company’s network being compromised.

In this article, courtesy of Broadband-Search.com, we’ll examine whether the security issues that come along with remote workers pose more of a risk and liability than they’re worth… And if so, what companies can potentially do to mitigate those risks.

 

What are the risks associated with having a remote workforce?

More and more companies are becoming concerned with security risks and how they relate to their remote workers. In fact, 57% of CIOs interviewed in a study think that the security issues their company experienced were due to remote workers being hacked. Are these fears founded, and should you be worrying about it? Let’s take a look at the security risks involved when working remotely.

  • Companies have limited control over employee devices (especially in the case of BYOD)

The biggest issue with remote working set-ups is that the company does not actually have any control over the devices the employees use. The same goes for the security measures they decide to use or forego completely.

Especially if the company functions on a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) basis, the employees’ devices are all personal and they are the only ones in charge of their security, both physical and digital.

It doesn’t take much to realize that this can mean a very real risk of important data loss due to a lack of awareness, preparation, or interest in cybersecurity. Not all remote workers are concerned with the security of the information on their device which can have disastrous effects for their employers.

  • The threat of malware and viruses

Obviously, with every device with an internet connection comes the risk of ending up with an assortment of malware, spyware, adware, or other virus varieties. They can be very insidious and worm their way onto devices via fake ads online, email phishing scams, fake email attachments, fraudulent downloads, etc.

At best, malware is annoying and relatively benign – it redirects URLs, deletes unimportant files and is easy to get rid of. At worst, it can spy on your activity, hack your passwords and personal accounts, steal your identity, or delete sensitive work files that cannot be restored. It can wreak a lot of havoc not only on the remote worker and their device, but on the entire company or network of devices.

  • The tenuous physical security needed for remote devices

As a company collaborating with remote workers, you have zero control over the actual physical security of the device in question, or how well the employee is taking care of it.

For example, if you’re working with someone who is scatter-brained or simply much too lax about device security, they may forget it somewhere, have it stolen, or leave it unattended at a Starbucks while going to the bathroom. It only takes a second for someone to take the device and run or access important files on it.

This has a rippling effect when sensitive data is compromised, and sometimes, it’s too late to do anything about it, except damage control.

  • Unsecured networks

Perhaps the biggest risk you face when collaborating with remote workers is the free WiFi, we all search for every time we’re out of office. Sure, the coffee shop or airport offers free WiFi, but that’s an unsecured network, and one never knows what’s crawling there.

Connect to it, and you risk inadvertently surrendering your most valuable information to the predatory strangers who are ready to steal it. Any passwords, bank information, etc. can be stolen and used by anyone connected to the network.

 

How can these IT security risks be avoided?

Okay, so now we’re familiar with what can go wrong, and why remote workers can be vulnerable. But these risks can be avoided, or at least mitigated – here are a few good practices to teach your remote employees and even use yourself:

  • Keeping personal and work devices separate

BYOD is great and it saves money, but if that’s at the cost of your security integrity, then it may not be a great deal. Sharing a device for both personal and work matters is tricky and a security risk – one is more likely to be lax about  the security of their device (leaving it attended, sharing it with other people, taking it outside your office, engaging in risky online behavior) when it’s personal.

Ideally, everyone would have separate work devices (whether that’s a laptop, tablet, or phone). That allows them to not only maintain a more clearly defined separation between work and life, but it also enables one to treat the devices accordingly when it comes to security.

  • Password-protecting all devices

Especially if you work on the go often, it’s very important to password-protect your work device. You never know who is around, looking over your shoulder to wait for you to leave the computer unattended, or spy on what you’re doing.

The more you’re on the move, especially when you work in public places, the more important it is for you to protect your device with a password. It’s good to have it even when working from home, but it’s absolutely essential when you work outside of the home.

  • Avoiding all public networks

This point will come up again and again because it’s important: one should never connect to an unknown or unsecured network. No matter how appealing the thought of free WiFi is, it’s not worth the risk.

Because there is no security, anyone can connect to this network and view the information you are inputting. Free WiFi is great for wasting time at the airport looking up funny cat videos, but not for logging in to important accounts or sharing documents.

Instead, setting up personal a hotspot via a mobile device is the best course of action. There is no need to pay for data for a laptop separately, as long as you have enough data on your phone plan. That way, your connection is always secure and password protected.

  • Encrypting important data transmissions

You can also protect your data by encrypting it. It may seem like it’s too much, but it’s a completely necessary measure if you regularly work outside the home or an office setting. Encrypting data is not even that difficult – you can use a program specifically designed for it, like TrueCrypt, and your selected files will be completely protected from being a target.

 

Final thoughts…

As you can see, remote working has both advantages and disadvantages, and it can certainly pose some security risks. As an employer, you may be wary of initiatives like BYOD, because of the numerous ways in which it can create problems for your company. However, these risks can be limited, or even eliminated, as long as some caution is exercised, and some basic security measures are set in place. Every employee should be made aware of these simple measures, and the risks associated with remote working should become minimal.

 

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