Keeping Data Safe with A Remote Workforce
If you employ a remote workforce, you are not alone. Currently, remote workers make up 16% of the national workforce. That’s 26 million workers across the US, each one with devices to keep them connected with their employers. Keeping data safe with a remote workforce is a huge concern when you have off-site employees.
Securing your remote workforce is important whether your employees are part-time telecommuters or full-time remote workers. Do your remote workers punch a clock in an office, work from home, or keep connected in hotels as they travel for your business?
The bad news? Each device or connection is a potential opportunity for a data breach.
The good news? Your employees can enjoy the benefits of working remotely while keeping your data safe with a remote workforce.
Let’s look at a few considerations when it comes to keeping data safe with a remote workforce.
A Quick Look at The Work-from-Home Culture
Before 2005, businesses rarely offered a telecommuting option. That all changed between 2005 and 2018 when the remote workforce grew by 173%, nearly 11% faster than the mainstream workforce. It’s estimated that 40% more businesses offer remote work opportunities to their workforce than they did five years ago.
Benefits of the Work from Home Culture
There are many reasons a business may have remote workforces.
- Telecommuters save an average of between $2-7k per year in parking, gas, and other commuting expenses
- Businesses save an average of $11k for each employee allowed to telecommute at least half the week
- Lower greenhouse gas emissions
- Remote workforces allow employers to widen their pool of talent when hiring
- Remote employees are happier and achieve a better work-life balance
Some small to medium sized businesses save money on office supplies, leasing costs, and overhead incidentals such as electricity and heating/cooling costs by operating 100% remotely.
Naturally, your remote workforce relies on technology to stay connected. You may have your internal servers and network secured from cybercrime, but what about your remote workers or your super-committed weekend warriors?
You need a strategy to keep data safe with a remote workforce whether your business is virtual, or you just employ a few remote workers. Securing a remote workforce doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.
Threats to Data Safety with a Remote Workforce
Remote workers come in many specialties, from data entry to graphics designers. Your sales force can be remote as well, with the freedom to connect with more potential customers and a wider sales field. With each remote worker, however, comes potential cyber threats that you must include in your overall comprehensive IT strategy. Securing a remote workforce means protecting your business from these threats:
Personal Use of Company Issued Equipment
When you issue computers, laptops, cell phones and other devices to your remote workers they may use the equipment for personal reasons. A break from work might involve a quick check of personal email, social media, or even a browsing session or online shopping. Their work-issued cell phone will be closer to them than their personal phone, and they may even text or email using this device.
Pro Tip: Keep data safe with a remote workforce by implementing a “no play” policy on company issued devices.
Leaving Work Issued Equipment Unsecured
Your remote employees may not think about security. After all, they are in a “safe” space, so security isn’t at the front of their minds. They may bypass security features, leave their devices unattended in a car or coffee shop, or leave the device signed into the company network when not working.
Pro Tip: Require frequent sign-ins, including password re-entry, whenever the device is inactive.
Using Personal Equipment for Work
Your work-issued devices may be different from what your remote workforce is used to using. It’s tempting to download work-related software, applications and data onto personal devices. Since most personal devices do not contain the high-level security features your on-site devices do, this could lead to a data breach. Part of securing your remote workforce will be auditing devices and making sure the employee is using work-issued equipment.
Pro Tip: Discourage work use of personal devices by assigning devices closest to what the employee currently uses and making these devices user-friendly.
Using Public Wi-Fi
One of the perks of working remotely is the ability to take your work with you wherever you go. Most buildings have public Wi-Fi, either unsecured or offering free passwords for customers and clients to use. Your remote workforce may start their morning at a coffee shop, stop at the library for research, or stay connected while picking their kids up from school before working in an airport while waiting their plane to take them to their hotel, where they may continue to work. Each public Wi-Fi they connect to is a potential data breach in the making. Many of these offices, shops, hotels and restaurants do not routinely change passwords. Once a hacker has the password, he or she can continue to gather information from unsuspecting patrons for months at a time.
Pro Tip: Securing a remote workforce includes adding additional security levels, such as encryption or a VPN. It may be helpful to offer a hotspot feature on mobile phones and devices so your employees are consistently using a safe Wi-Fi connection.
Remote Workers May Procrastinate when Installing Updates and Patches
Those warnings and alerts can become so annoying, employees may disable them altogether. There never seems to be a “right time” to stop working and let the computer patch or update security software.
Pro Tip: Make sure warnings and alerts cannot be bypassed or disabled. Plan for these patches to automatically update after midnight when the employee is least likely to be on the device.
How Do You Keep Data Safe with A Remote Workforce?
While employees don’t have malicious intentions when they get lax about security, they still account for40% of breaches and malware infections. IT security is simply not something at the top of their priority list. You will need to do some of the cybersecurity legwork for them and create a complete IT solution to cover your remote employees.
Some of the best IT practices that target a remote workforce include:
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
The first step your organization can take is to create a VPN for your business. There are tools and software to do this for free, but paid VPNs can offer more security features than “boxed” solutions. Additionally, paid VPN providers can usually connect more devices, including mobile phones which are historically hard to run through a VPN.
VPNs allow you to create secure internet connections by routing your data through a private tunnel to your network; in other words, it’s a fake connection that removes your information completely from the picture during internet operations. A VPN hides the IP address of the device using it, making it safer to access emails and websites from that device.
VPNs also encrypts data as it is sent or received, further securing a remote workforce.
VPNs are easy to use and cost effective. They do not affect workflow or productivity, but they allow the remote employee the freedom to work from anywhere.
Two Factor Authentication
Two Factor Authentication is a security feature that can secure the devices themselves by asking for two forms of ID before the employee can log in. This may be a password combined with a “push” to a mobile device, a combination of biometrics and text messages, and many other combinations. The employee is required to provide “something they know” in combination with access to “something they have.” If the device is lost or stolen, a cyber criminal will also need another device (usually a mobile phone) as well as the password to log onto the computer.
Policies and Procedures
Make sure your company’s work-related device usage guidelines are clear. You can clarify what can be accessed on the work devices, as well as what should be blocked from access on personal devices. Make sure your policies are read, signed and understood. Adding a few examples of acceptable and unacceptable tech behaviors can be helpful for clarity. This “Acceptable Use Policy” can be used company-wide for all employees, not just your remote workforce.
Your remote workforce should only have permissions to use the apps, platforms and programs they use regularly. Make sure your remote workers do not have permissions to highly sensitive data or applications they do not need. This will mean taking each remote position and assigning permissions to it based on the job being performed.
Check Your Industry’s Requirements
Remote employee device requirements can vary from industry to industry. Healthcare remote workforces, for instance, have very specific guidelines for how devices are set up within the workspace, what devices can access what information, and more. Make sure your remote workforce understands any device usage guidelines that touch your industry.
Issue Devices with Protections in Place
Securing a remote workforce begins with the equipment you issue. Make sure any devices being sent out for remote work are already protected, right out of the box. Make sure that automatic patches and updates cannot be bypassed by the employee.
Encourage Employee Transparency
Accidents will happen, links may be clicked, and spam answered. Keeping data safe in a remote workforce means encouraging the employee to report any suspicious activity, even if they might have accidentally introduced the issue. Always provide a phone number to an IT professional for all remote employees to call immediately if something feels wrong about an email, or if they accidentally clicked something that is affecting their computer. When securing your remote workforce, make sure they fully understand what steps to take if they suspect their computer or other devices has become infected with malware.
Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Cybersecurity awareness training should be a part of any new employee’s hiring process as well as a regularly occurring class for current employees. Don’t forget your remote workforce! Provide written assessments, online classes, and videos about cybersecurity awareness to your off-site employees. You may be able to patch the employee into your company’s training classes so he or she can watch, take part in exercises, and ask questions if necessary. Cybersecurity awareness training is a vital part of securing your remote workforce.
Securing your Remote Workforce Doesn’t Have to be Complicated
Iconic IT knows a few things about remote workforces. We have several remote teams ourselves. When it comes to connecting remote workers safely and securely, Iconic IT has the answers you need.
We have the solutions to keep your data safe with a remote workforce. Let Iconic IT show you how we can help you develop strategies to protect your small to medium-sized business from potential data breaches from your valuable remote employees.
Let us help you make your remote workforce is as protected as your office employees are. Contact Iconic IT for a free, no-obligation consultation today.