Research Hub > Securing Your Remote Workforce

September 06, 2021

Article
8 min

Securing Your Remote Workforce

Is your organization currently managing a fully remote workforce, possibly for the first time? Here are some of the ongoing challenges and threats to be aware of that are taking the remote, working world by storm, along with some tips to help.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic shaking the very foundations of the business world, employees might be finding themselves working from home indefinitely. Many organizations have had to quickly adjust to managing an entire remote workforce for the first time. In the short term, remote working has become a necessity. However, it is very likely that working remotely will become a permanent norm, long after the pandemic. Below are some of the challenges and threats that organizations have had to face with managing a remote workforce.

Common Challenges of Working from Home

Aside from the perks that remote workers seemed to have enjoyed, such as eliminating commutes and a sense of autonomy, remote working can present its own set of challenges. Whether you’re new to remote working or have been working from home for years, below are some of the common challenges you could face with working from home. 

Security

Remote employees may not be aware of the processes they need to adopt in order to keep organization data secure and maintain privacy, as well as keeping company assets protected. Users have also remained largely unaware of the security risks of their actions, and how those actions can compromise their employer’s networks. Many employees also use their personal devices to access company data. Despite this, many employees still think they are working securely, which forms a huge disconnect in understanding the importance of security. 

Connectivity

A traditional, office set up allowed employees to connect and collaborate with each other. It also kept employees connected through in-person meetings and face-to-face interaction. However, with everyone working from home, employees are having to depend on phone calls, emails and instant messaging to know what is going on inside the office. The lack of team interaction from working remotely poses the challenge of becoming distant with team members, making it much more difficult to create and maintain relationships with co-workers. Of course, you can still instant message or email your colleagues, but it’s not the same as having a quick coffee chat or stopping by a cubicle.

Support

Typical IT support systems are designed for offices where employees are under one roof and connected to one company network. For employees, receiving in-office support was easily available and accessible before the pandemic. Now, employees must submit tickets remotely and wait for support to follow up with them – a sometimes elongated and cumbersome process. The convenience for users on getting problems quickly resolved within the office is gone, which has brought IT support teams the challenges of not having the ability to just “drop-in," and relieve the stress associated with technical problems by sometimes simply just chatting face-to-face with the user. Fortunately, sometimes outside IT support can help alieviate the burden on IT teams that are overrun with tickets. 

Security Threats of Working from Home

While remote work has much to offer the world of business, it has also created an increasing number of security threats that you can fall victim to. Teams that had an in-office workforce may be vulnerable and unprepared to combat these old and new threats. Here are some of the security threats you could face while working from home.

Malware

For employees to be successful in their roles while working from home, organizations have been enabling remote access for their workforce to use corporate services and infrastructure through VPN. With the mass influx of remote access to company information through unprotected home networks, it poses the risks of malware.

The main purpose of malware, or “malicious software,” is for cybercriminals to intentionally cause damage to a computer and its network. Malware will usually trick the user into giving unauthorized, remote access to their computer, in order to steal private information. If a computer is communicating with other devices on a network, it can be at risk. If there are documents or files stored on your computer or another device, they can potentially be exposed to anyone who is trying to gain access to them. This is especially true if there is no security set in place on that device, or if an employee frequently uses several devices to WFH.

A firewall is often one of the easiest ways to protect your network. Even small businesses can benefit from the installation of a simple firewall to help combat malware and malicious traffic. There are more robust, next-gen firewall solutions that can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically detect threats, but even out-of-the-box firewalls provide more protection than no firewall at all.

Read More: How to Choose a Stateless vs. Stateful Firewall

Password Reuse

Using the same password to access your work email account and company databases or servers from your laptop is an invitation for cybercriminals. If one account is compromised, all the other accounts are automatically at risk. Once a cybercriminal gains access to your computer from your password reuse, you’re facing a threat of loss on multiple fronts. Not only can they steal your stored, personal information through the organizations’ network, but they can also steal proprietary, confidential information that belongs to your organization or a customer. At that point, it will then be much more difficult and time consuming to try and retrieve that stolen information, if it’s even possible to recover.

Phishing

In the rapid shift to a fully remote workforce, employees found themselves being at home with kids from school and/or spouses more often, resulting in splitting their attention between work and home life. This new work environment with being at home with family can reduce the attention being paid to the email communications received, creating a perfect storm for the increased likelihood of individuals falling victim to phishing emails that are disguised behind communications to websites that appear legitimate. The individuals behind the phishing emails know that the more compelling the content is for call to action and urgency for information, the more likely the recipient will click on it.

Below are examples of phishing emails for you to look out for:

  • Grammatical Errors: Many phishing emails are full of grammatical errors, misspellings and odd capitalization. Additionally, those emails might contain sentences or phrases that just seem completely off and do not make any sense. Be sure to read your email out loud to yourself. If it doesn’t sound right, or professional, be skeptical. It could be a phishing scam.
  • Odd URL: If you suspect that an email could be a scam, hover over the URL link within the message. This will show the site’s URL. Often, the URL doesn’t belong to the company that is supposedly trying to reach out to you.
  • Low-Resolution Logos: Typically, scammers will copy or cut and paste logos from legitimate company websites in their phishing emails. If the image seems pixelated, discolored, blurry or very small, there is a good indication that the person contacting you doesn’t really work for the company.
  • A Sense of Urgency in the Email: The most effective phishing emails always create a sense of urgency or panic to the recipients of the email. Unfortunately, humans are prone to making rash decisions, and phishing emails thrive on that by invoking panic. They want the recipients to act on the email, as quickly as possible, in order to gain access to proprietary information. Before acting on an email, if it looks or smells funny, the email should be verified. If it cannot be verified, leave it alone. As the old saying goes, “If something seems too good to be true, it is."

Security Tips to Protect Your Employees Working from Home

Most organizations do not have the infrastructure or resources on-hand to help with addressing the cybersecurity risks of employees working from home. In the past, workplaces that weren't already set up to work remotely just simply didn't offer remote work. However, the pandemic and lockdowns in many countries meant forcing organizations and their employees into the unfamiliar territory of full-time working from home. Organizations now need to find ways to protect both customer’s and employee’s sensitive data, while enabling flexible work locations.

Below are some security tips to help you and your staff stay secure during these unprecedented times. These tips are not just to protect those working from home, but also to help the security, IT departments and small businesses who suddenly need to secure their distributed workforce.

Always Use a Different Password

Most people know to not use the same password for everything, but they continue doing it out of fear of forgetting. On the flipside, it can quickly become a challenge to remember all those different passwords every time. Never reuse a password. For each account, always create a secure, unique password full of upper-lower case, numeric characters and special symbols. The longer and more complicated a password is, the tougher it is for a hacker to crack it. You can also use a password management app to store all your unique passwords for each account that you have. All you would have to do is save a single password to log into the app, which will then open a vault that stores all your accounts securely with a single click. 

Keep Your Security Software Updated

Start with the cybersecurity basics. Make sure that you install antivirus software on your computer and keep your security software up to date. Updated software will consistently scan your computer to protect it from malware or any other online, security threat that tries to come your way.

Read More: How to Choose Antivirus Software for Business

Be Vigilant with Phishing

Phishing scams are on the rise and growing in the digital age, especially with scammers using the COVID-19 pandemic to attract victims. Phishing scams can be easy to spot, if you are paying attention. While phishing scams aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, approach and treat every email that you encounter with a certain degree of caution and care.

You should also promote awareness of these attacks to the employees within your organization and what to look for if an email message seems off. Users are always the first line of defense and human intelligence can be very effective in stopping phishing scams in their tracks.

Summary

By the end of 2021, cybersecurity crime is expected to cost the world a total of $6 trillion. This article will give you a head start with steps that individual remote employees can take to secure your organization's sensitive information, as well as their own personal information.

As an organization, being at the forefront of these threats before they happen and implementing security measures to help your employees continue to safely work in these uncertain times will keep you well prepared now and into the future.