Reduce Cyber Risks for Your Remote Workers

Written by Chuck Rutenberg

June 21, 2021

In a recent HP Wolf Security global study assessing cyber risks in remote work, the results show changing work environments are creating new vulnerabilities for organizations, workers, and their data. As the lines between home and work continue to blur, security risks are soaring. Even everyday actions like opening an email attachment are threatening severe consequences. If your organization’s one of the many that’s adopted a remote or hybrid work environment, it’s time to take steps to reduce your company’s cyber risks by putting proper protections in place.

Common Cyber Risks for Remote Workers

Improperly secured VPNs, business email, and cloud-based services are just a few of the ways the shift to a remote workforce has affected cybersecurity.

The HP Wolf study found:

  • Seventy percent of surveyed workers admit using their work devices for personal tasks.
  • Nearly the same percentage are using personal laptops or printers for work activities.
  • Almost one in three remote workers admit to letting someone else use their work device.

These and other behaviors are making remote and home workers increasingly vulnerable targets by cyber hackers. Although, the blame doesn’t rest with employees alone.

In their abrupt and unfamiliar transition to remote work, organizations often failed to address security areas they could have strengthened for their remote workers. Some didn’t provide adequate cybersecurity training that focused on at-home risks, while others didn’t take the time to analyze security features in new software tools. And many neglected to deploy new antivirus solutions for work-issued devices.

Some of the biggest challenges and dangers in the move to working from home include:

  1. Phishing. Bad actors have gotten incredibly sophisticated at luring in unsuspecting employees who then share personal login credentials and other sensitive information. They’ve also invented ways to get around company security measures and deposit their phishing emails directly into an employee’s inbox.
  2. Device theft. Laptops, smartphones, and other devices that get left on public transportation or in coffee shops can be picked up by hackers who then use them to gain access to corporate systems. It’s often far too easy for them to do so, as many enterprises fail to lock down the devices, and employees often have a sticky note or label on the device with their password!
  3. Connectivity. Many organizations still pass commercially sensitive data between corporate systems and remote machines over standard, unencrypted web protocols. Experienced hackers are skilled at quickly cracking them, particularly if the employee is using a public WiFi network.
  4. Access. Device theft and data interception wouldn’t be much of a big deal if businesses properly controlled remote employee access to critical systems. Unfortunately, many organizations still grant the same privileges to remote workers as they do to those in the workplace. This potentially allows cyberattackers total access to corporate systems.
  5. Weak passwords. Remote work makes weak passwords even weaker. Shared, easily compromised, and stolen passwords continue to be at fault for most hacks.

Protect Your Remote Workers From Cyber Threats

The level of security awareness for employees who work from home remains low. You can and should take steps to protect your business, your employees, and your customers from cyber threats.

  • Maintain strong passwords. Ones that include letters, numbers, and special characters are best, and they should be changed at least once a quarter. Multi-factor authentication is another good way to secure your organization’s network and ensure only approved users have access to sensitive information.
  • Update your firewall. Hackers are proficient in exploiting network vulnerabilities. Updating your network’s firewall protects valuable data and fixes security holes.
  • Allocate sufficient IT resources to support your remote workers. Employees should have easy yet secure access to your organization’s network and online tools. You might need to invest in solutions like cloud computing and increase things like data storage capabilities and network bandwidth.

Finally, about a third of remote workers say they download more from the internet when at home and use their work devices to play games, watch online streaming services, or do homework with their children. Policies must be put in place to prevent activities on work devices that aren’t work-related.

How to Mitigate Cyber Risks

Along with ensuring remotely shared information is secure, it’s a good idea to provide security training to all employees so they fully understand the risks of unsafe behaviors. As remote work becomes more the norm, top-notch security is paramount to fighting off cyber attacks, even after the pandemic has ended. Strong passwords and updating firewalls are all essential to an overall security strategy. Better yet is an integrated solution that automatically assesses vulnerabilities, monitors systems, and provides the protection needed to cut cybercriminals off at the pass.

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