Risks and Best Practices for Remote Employees

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In an era where connectivity knows no bounds, the rise of remote work has become an emblem of modern professional life. Empowering employees with flexibility and autonomy, remote work has revolutionized traditional office dynamics. However, amidst the convenience and freedom lie lurking threats that can compromise sensitive data and jeopardize organizational security. As remote work continues to proliferate, it becomes imperative for both employees and employers to grasp the landscape of potential hazards and adopt best practices to mitigate risks effectively.

In this article, we’ll dive into the multifaceted realm of remote work, exploring the myriad of threats that remote employees encounter in their digital journeys. From phishing scams to unsecured networks, the digital landscape is rife with pitfalls waiting to ensnare the unwary. We´ll examine these threats in detail, shedding light on their mechanisms and the havoc they can wreak on individuals and organizations alike.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Alongside these threats, we’ll uncover a treasure trove of best practices designed to arm remote employees with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the digital frontier securely. Whether it’s implementing robust cybersecurity protocols or fostering a culture of vigilance and awareness, these best practices serve as beacons of resilience in the face of adversity.

How to navigate cybersecurity risks in the era of remote work

In excerpts from an article by CEO Magazine, they wrote, “Mitigating cybersecurity threats when your team is working from home is an increasingly risky business. In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, remote work has become a norm. And while the benefits of flexibility and access to a global talent pool are undeniable, the significant challenge all organizations battle is the ongoing threat of cybersecurity risks.

In my role as the CEO of cloud security company Plerion, I’ve personally witnessed the intricacies and vulnerabilities that remote work adds to the equation. And believe me, this challenge is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The remote revolution

Research from McKinsey shows us that hybrid work has changed the way people work, live, and shop. Office attendance varies by city, tending to be lower in cities with expensive housing and a large share of knowledge workers.

Employees at larger firms report significantly lower attendance than smaller firms. One potential reason is that larger companies tend to have more resources and technology to support working from home. Quite simply, there’s much more IT support to allow it to happen.

While the hybrid way of work has had a number of positive impacts for both organizations and employees, such as increased productivity and work—life balance, the potential security risks that come with a dispersed workforce are undeniable.

Expanding the attack surface

Remote work expands the attack surface for cybercriminals. Workers are logging into company systems on an ever-growing number of devices including mobile phones to see tasks, access private data and upload company documents on shared systems.

Cloud security breaches are by no means rare. A recent Thales study found that a staggering 39 percent of organizations around the world experienced a data breach in their cloud environment last year.

Businesses have also reported a dramatic increase in the level of sensitive data stored in the cloud. Three quarters (75 percent) admit they are using cloud storage to store sensitive data, up from 49 percent this time last year.

“Organizations have a crucial role to play in safeguarding the security and privacy of their remote workforce while addressing the cybersecurity challenges of remote work.”

It coincides with the hybrid way of work, creating greater security risks than some organizations might like to believe.

Think back a couple of years ago when Facebook notified more than 530 million users that their personal data had been stolen and posted to a public database. The data breach included phone numbers, full names, locations, email addresses, and other private data from user profiles.

Then there’s the Alibaba attack that impacted more than 1.1 billion users’ data in late 2019, the LinkedIn data scraping breach in 2021 that affected 700 million LinkedIn profiles, and the Accenture ransomware hack the same year. Hackers stole and leaked proprietary corporate data and, even worse, breached the company’s customers’ systems.

Aside from the work involved in alerting users of a data breach, organizations also have to deal with the string of media headlines and public scrutiny that follows.

Facing the challenge head on

There’s no doubt that the cybersecurity risks organizations face in maintaining robust cybersecurity environments in a remote work environment is a battle no organization can face alone.

This has given rise to the need for secure collaboration tools that will help overcome the very real risk of phishing attacks out there that specifically target the growing army of remote workers.

The lack of control that an organization has over employees’ home networks has given rise to countless other cybersecurity breaches across the corporate landscape.

While having the right IT systems in place is critical, the other piece of the puzzle is the role of employees as both potential security vulnerabilities and active defenders.

Organizations need to do their part, however, incorporating continuous cybersecurity training and awareness programs for remote employees to make sure they know what to look out for, and what to do in the event of a cyber breach.

Afterall, cyber attackers target people, and exploit organizational weaknesses. These increasingly sophisticated groups are actively casing out your organization around the clock in the concerted hunt to access private data. This focus on psychology and technological know-how is what makes the modern attack so dangerous.

The challenges

Even seemingly impenetrable global organizations are falling victim in this remote work environment.

For numerous businesses, the challenge lies in effectively navigating the complex terrain of maintaining employee privacy while enabling seamless access to work tools, whether it’s from their home office or using their phone during personal moments like cheering on their child’s soccer game.

The evolving landscape of remote work is being significantly influenced by the emerging risks of the IoT. Organizations have a crucial role to play in safeguarding the security and privacy of their remote workforce while addressing the cybersecurity challenges of remote work.

This responsibility lies with organizations to provide continuous training to effectively manage these risks at all times. Collaborating with trusted technology providers becomes the essential solution in collectively addressing these remote work cybersecurity challenges.”

The Top 10 Risks of Remote Working

In excerpts from an article by Cyber Magazine, they wrote, “The rise of remote working has created a new range of challenges for businesses who want to keep their sensitive information secure. As more employees work outside of the traditional office environment, companies must find new ways to manage and monitor access to data. Employee devices, home Wi-Fi networks, and unknown third-party apps all pose potential security risks. In this blog post, we’ll explore the top 10 risks of remote working and how you can protect your business from cyberattacks.

1. Unsecured Connections

One of the most substantial challenges of remote working is the use of unsecured connections to access company data. Public Wi-Fi networks are not secure, and if an employee logs in to an unsecured network, the company data passed between their device and the server is vulnerable. To mitigate the risk of unsecured connections, ensure that all employees use VPNs when accessing company data remotely.

2. Phishing Scams

Remote workers may become victims of phishing scams that send fraudulent emails with the intention of stealing sensitive data from the company. The scammer may trick the employee into revealing login credentials or downloading malware that infects the system. To reduce the risk of phishing scams, conduct regular employee training sessions to teach employees how to spot suspicious emails and actions.

3. Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness

Another risk of remote working is the lack of cybersecurity awareness among employees. Remote employees may not be as vigilant about security risks as those working in the office. To ensure remote employees maintain a high level of cybersecurity awareness, provide regular training, and enforce company policies on cybersecurity best practices.

4. Device Management

Remote workers may use unmanaged personal devices to access company data, which can pose a risk to the organizational data. Without proper device management, it can be challenging to keep track of which devices are accessing company information, leading to possible data breaches. Have systems in place that monitor the devices that are used to access company data.

5. Insufficient System Updates

Whenever an operating system, software, or application update becomes available, it is essential to update the system with the latest security patches. Many remote workers may not update their devices regularly, which makes them vulnerable to malware and other cybersecurity risks. Provide regular reminders to remote employees to update their devices and take all necessary measures to ensure that all system updates are installed timely.

6. Data Storage

With remote working, sensitive data may be stored on personal computers, which may not have adequate security measures in place. If these devices are stolen or hacked, sensitive company data can be leaked, leading to a security breach. Encourage remote workers to store data in the company-approved cloud storage or implement measures to ensure data encryption in their personal devices.

7. Employee Turnover

Employee turnover is another risk of remote working, as employees may leave the company with sensitive data. It’s essential to have proper procedures in place to remove access to sensitive data promptly once an employee leaves the organization.

8. Lack of Monitoring

Remote workers are not physically present in the office, which makes it difficult to monitor their cyber activities. Without the necessary monitoring checks, it becomes challenging to detect any potential threats or attacks. Establish proper monitoring measures to ensure that all systems and networks are secure and are continuously monitored.

9. Compliance Issues

If your organization has strict regulatory requirements, remote working may pose a risk to compliance. With remote workers accessing sensitive data from their personal devices, it may be challenging to ensure full compliance. It’s essential to implement strict security measures with the use of VPNs and access rights restrictions to networks, devices, and company data.

10. Cloud Security

Cloud security is another significant concern for remote workers. Cloud providers typically offer several security features and protocols, but it’s essential to ensure that these features are adequate to meet your data security standards. Evaluate cloud providers before making a choice to ensure that they have the necessary security protocols in place.

Remote working has undoubtedly skyrocketed in recent times, and businesses must come to terms with the potential risks that come with this new mode of work. Cybersecurity risks affect a business’s reputation, financial stability, and legal standing. As businesses continue to embrace remote working, it is essential to take all necessary measures to ensure that cyberattacks are prevented. Organizations must invest in adequate cybersecurity measures, employee training, regular device updates, and proper monitoring systems.  By doing so, they can protect their business and maintain a high level of data security.”

Tips for Remote Workers to Stay Cyber Secure

In a publication by the National Security Agency, they wrote, “Don’t be a victim! Malicious cyber actors may leverage your home network to gain access to personal, private, and confidential information. Help protect yourself, your family, and your work by practicing cybersecurity-aware behaviors, observing some basic configuration guidelines, and implementing the following mitigations on your home network, including:

  • Upgrade and update all equipment and software regularly, including routing devices
  • Exercise secure habits by backing up your data and disconnecting devices when connections are not needed
  • Limit administration to the internal network only

Recommendations for device security

Electronic computing devices, including computers, laptops, printers, mobile phones, tablets, security cameras, home appliances, cars, and other “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices must all be secured to reduce the risk of compromise. Most home entertainment and utility devices, such as home monitoring systems, baby monitors, IoT devices, smart devices, Blu-ray™ players, streaming video players, and video game consoles, are capable of accessing the Internet, recording audio, and/or capturing video. Implementing security measures can ensure these devices don’t become the weak link in your home protection.

Upgrade to a modern operating system and keep it up-to-date

The most recent version of any operating system (OS) contains security features not found in previous versions. Many of these security features are enabled by default and help prevent common attack vectors. Increase the difficulty for an adversary to gain privileged access by using the latest available and supported OS for desktops, laptops, and smart devices. IoT devices on a home network are often overlooked but also require updates. Enable automatic update functionality when available. If automatic updates are not possible, download and install patches and updates from a trusted vendor on a monthly basis.

Secure routing devices and keep them up-to-date

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide a modem/router as part of your service contract. To maximize administrative control over the routing and wireless features of your home network, consider using a personally owned routing device that connects to the ISP-provided modem/router. In addition, use modern router features to create a separate wireless network for guests, for network separation from your more trusted and private devices.

Your router is the gateway into your home network. Without proper security and patching, it is more likely to be compromised, which can lead to the compromise of other devices on the network as well. To minimize vulnerabilities and improve security, the routing devices on your home network should be updated to the latest patches, preferably through automatic updates. These devices should also be replaced when they reach end-of-life (EOL) for support. This ensures that all devices can continue to be updated and patched as vulnerabilities are discovered.

Implement WPA3 or WPA2 on the wireless network

To keep your wireless communications confidential, ensure your personal or ISP-provided WAP is capable of Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3). If you have devices on your network that do not support WPA3, you can select WPA2/3 instead. This allows newer devices to use the more secure method while still allowing older devices to connect to the network over WPA2.

When configuring WPA3 or WPA2/3, use a strong passphrase with a minimum length of twenty characters. When available, protected management frames should also be enabled for added security. Most computers and mobile devices now support WPA3 or WPA2. If you are planning to purchase a new device, ensure it is WPA3-Personal certified. Change the default service set identifier (SSID) to something unique. Do not hide the SSID as this adds no additional security to the wireless network and may cause compatibility issues.

Implement wireless network segmentation

Leverage network segmentation on your home network to keep your wireless communication secure. At a minimum, your wireless network should be segmented between your primary Wi-Fi, guest Wi-Fi, and IoT network. This segmentation keeps less secure devices from directly communicating with your more secure devices.

Employ firewall capabilities

Ensure that your personally owned routing device supports basic firewall capabilities. Verify that it includes network address translation (NAT) to prevent internal systems from being scanned through the network boundary. Wireless access points (WAP) generally do not provide these capabilities so it may be necessary to purchase a router. If your ISP supports IPv6, ensure your router supports IPv6 firewall capabilities.

Leverage security software

Leverage security software that provides layered defense via anti-virus, anti-phishing, anti-malware, safe browsing, and firewall capabilities. The security suite may be built into the operating system or available to install as a separate product on computers, laptops, and tablets. However, some devices, such as home assistants, smart devices, and other IoT devices, may not support installing security suites. Modern endpoint detection and response software use cloud-based reputation services for detecting and preventing execution of malware. Full disk encryption should be implemented where possible on laptops, tablets, and mobile phones to prevent data disclosure if that device is lost or stolen—many mobile devices enable disk encryption by default and security software can make it as easy as pushing a button.

Protect passwords

Ensure that passwords and answers to challenge questions are properly protected since they provide access to personal information. Passwords should be strong, unique for each account, and difficult to guess. Passwords and answers to challenge questions should not be stored in plain text form on the system or anywhere a malicious actor might have access. Using a password manager is highly recommended because it allows you to use unique, complex passwords without needing to remember them.

Limit use of the administrator account

The highly privileged administrator account can access and potentially overwrite all files and configurations on your system. Because it can access more files, malware can more effectively compromise your system if it is executed while you are logged on as an administrator. To prevent this, create a non-privileged “user” account for normal, everyday activities, such as web browsing, email access, and file creation/editing. Only use the privileged account for maintenance, installations, and updates.

Safeguard against eavesdropping

Be aware that home assistants and smart devices have microphones and are listening to conversations, even when you are not actively engaging with the device. If compromised, the adversary can eavesdrop on conversations. Limit sensitive conversations when you are near baby monitors, audio recording toys, home assistants, and smart devices. Consider muting their microphones when not in use. For devices with cameras (e.g., laptops, monitoring devices and toys) cover cameras when you are not using them. Disconnect Internet access if a device is not commonly used, but be sure to update it when you do use it.

Exercise secure user habits

To minimize ransomware risks, back up data on external drives or portable media. Disconnect and securely store external storage when not in use. Minimize charging mobile devices with computers; use the power adapter instead. Avoid connecting devices to public charging stations. Leave computers in sleep mode to enable downloading and installing updates automatically. Regularly reboot computers to apply the updates. Turn off devices or disconnect their Internet connections when they will not be used for an extended time, such as when going on vacation.

Limit administration to the internal network only

Disable the ability to perform remote administration on the routing device. Only make network configuration changes from within your internal network. Disable Universal Plug-n-Play (UPnP). These measures help close holes that may enable an attacker to compromise your network.

Schedule frequent device reboots

To minimize the threat of non-persistent malicious code on your personally owned device, reboot the device periodically. Malicious implants have been reported to infect home routers without persistence. At a minimum, you should schedule weekly reboots of your routing devices, smartphones, and computers. Regular reboots help to remove implants and ensure security. For more guidance on better protecting your smartphone, refer to the “Mobile Device Best Practices” CSI.

Ensure confidentiality during telework

The security of your home network can directly affect not only your personal information but also your work information and networks when teleworking. Using a virtual private network (VPN) to remotely connect to your internal corporate network via a secure tunnel is one solution for securely accessing work information. This provides an added layer of security while allowing you to take advantage of services normally offered to on-site users. For more guidance on securing your VPN, refer to the“Selecting and Hardening Remote Access VPN Solutions” cybersecurity information guidance (CSI).

When connecting to other work services, such as websites and cloud-based office apps, be sure that it is also through a secure tunnel by checking for a lock icon on the web browser’s address bar. If you utilize commercial collaboration services, choose one that provides strong encryption, preferably end-to-end encryption. For an in-depth look at some commercial collaboration platforms, refer to the “Selecting and Safely Using Collaboration Services for Telework” CSI.

Recommendations for online behavior

Spearphishing, malicious ads, email attachments, and untrusted applications can present concerns for home Internet users. To avoid revealing sensitive information, abide by the following guidelines while accessing the Internet.

Follow email best practices

Email is a potential attack vector for hackers. The following recommendations help reduce exposure to threats:

  • Avoid opening attachments or links from unsolicited emails. Exercise cyber hygiene; do not open unknown emails or click on their attachments or web links. Check the identity of the sender via secondary methods (phone call, in-person) and delete the email if verification fails. For those emails with embedded links, open a browser and navigate to the website directly by its well-known web address or search for the site using an Internet search engine.
  • To prevent reusing any compromised passwords, use a different password for each account. Consider using a password manager to create and remember strong, unique passwords.
  • Avoid using the out-of-office message feature unless it is necessary. Make it harder for unknown parties to learn about your activities or status.
  • Always use secure email protocols, particularly if using a wireless network. Configure your email client to use the transport layer security (TLS) option Secure IMAP or Secure POP3) to encrypt your email in transit between the mail server and your device.
  • Never open emails that make outlandish claims or offers that are “too good to be true.”

Upgrade to a modern browser and keep it up-to-date

Modern browsers are much better at prompting users when security features are not enabled or used. Modern browsers help protect the confidentiality of sensitive information in transit over the Internet. The browser should be kept up-to-date. When conducting activities such as account logins and financial transactions, the browser’s URL tab indicates that transit security is in place, usually with a lock icon.

Take precautions on social networking sites

Social networking sites are a convenient means for sharing personal information with family and friends. However, this convenience also brings a level of risk. To protect yourself, refer to the “Keeping Safe on Social Media” CSI guidance and do the following:

  • Avoid posting information, such as addresses, phone numbers, places of employment, and other personal information that can be used to target or harass you. Some scam artists use this information, along with pet names, first car make or model, and streets you have lived on, to figure out answers to account security questions.
  • Limit access to your information to “friends only” and verify any new friend requests outside of social networking.
  • Be cautious of duplicate or copycat profiles of current friends, family, or coworkers. Malicious actors may use impersonated accounts to query you for privileged information or target you for spearphishing.
  • Review the security policies and settings available from your social network provider quarterly or when the site’s Terms of Use policy changes, as the defaults can change. Opt-out of exposing personal information to search engines.
  • Take precautions concerning unsolicited requests and links. Adversaries may attempt to get you to click on a link or download an attachment that may contain malicious software.

Authentication safeguards

  • Enable strong authentication on your router. Protect your login passwords and take steps to minimize misuse of password recovery options.
  • Disable features that allow websites or programs to remember passwords. Use a password manager instead.
  • Many online sites use password recovery or challenge questions. To prevent an attack from leveraging personal information to answer challenge questions, consider providing a false answer to a fact-based question, assuming the response is unique and memorable.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever possible. Examples of multifactor authentication include secondary confirmation phone/email, security questions, and app/device-based identification. Some forms of MFA, such as app/device-based identification, are more secure and should be used over less secure methods, such as confirmation phone/email. When available, prefer using phishing-resistant MFA options.

Exercise caution when accessing public hotspots

Many establishments, such as coffee shops, hotels, and airports, offer wireless hotspots or kiosks for customers to access the Internet. Because the underlying infrastructure of these is unknown and security may be weak, public hotspots are more susceptible to malicious activity. If you must access the Internet while away from home, avoid direct use of public wireless. When possible, use a corporate or personal Wi-Fi hotspot with strong authentication and encryption. If public access is necessary, refer to “Securing Wireless Devices in Public Settings” CSI for guidance and do the following:

  • If possible, use the cellular network (that is, mobile Wi-Fi, 4G, or 5G services) to connect to the Internet instead of public hotspots. This option generally requires a service plan with a cellular provider.
  • If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a trusted VPN. This option can protect your connection from malicious activities and monitoring.
  • Exercise physical security in a public place. Do not leave devices unattended.

Do not exchange home and work content

The exchange of information between home systems and work systems via email or removable media may put work systems at an increased risk of compromise. Ideally, use organization-provided equipment and accounts to conduct work while away from the office. If using a personal device, such as through a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, use corporate-mandated security products and guidance for accessing corporate resources and networks. Try to connect to a remote desktop or terminal server inside the corporate network rather than make copies of files and transport them between devices. Avoid using personal accounts and resources for business interactions. Always use a VPN or other secure channel to connect to corporate networks and services to ensure your data is secured through encryption.

Use separate devices for different activities

Establish a level of trust based on a device’s security features and its usage. Consider segregating tasks by dividing them between devices dedicated to different purposes. For example, one device may be for financial/personally identifiable information (PII) use and another for games or entertainment for children.”

In conclusion, the landscape of remote work presents both opportunities and challenges, with cybersecurity being a paramount concern. As organizations embrace the flexibility and efficiency of remote work, they must also confront the reality of increased cybersecurity risks. From phishing scams to unsecured connections, the threats are diverse and ever-evolving.

However, by implementing robust cybersecurity protocols, fostering a culture of awareness among employees, and leveraging secure collaboration tools, organizations can navigate the complexities of remote work securely. Moreover, empowering remote workers with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves and their devices is essential in mitigating risks effectively.

As the remote revolution continues to shape the future of work, organizations must prioritize cybersecurity measures to safeguard sensitive data and maintain the trust of their stakeholders. By staying vigilant, adapting to emerging threats, and investing in cybersecurity infrastructure, organizations can thrive in the era of remote work while ensuring the protection of their digital assets and maintaining a resilient cybersecurity posture.

At Adaptive Office Solutions, cybersecurity is our specialty. We keep cybercrimes at bay by using analysis, forensics, and reverse engineering to prevent malware attempts and patch vulnerability issues. By making an investment in multilayered cybersecurity, you can leverage our expertise to boost your defenses, mitigate risks, and protect your data with next-gen IT security solutions.

Every device connecting to the internet poses a cyber security threat, including that innocent-looking smartwatch you’re wearing. Adaptive’s wide range of experience and certifications fills the gaps in your business’s IT infrastructure and dramatically increases the effectiveness of your cybersecurity posture.

Using our proactive cybersecurity management, cutting-edge network security tools, and comprehensive business IT solutions, you can lower your costs through systems that are running at their prime, creating greater efficiency and preventing data loss and costly downtime. With Adaptive Office Solutions by your side, we’ll help you navigate the complexities of cybersecurity so you can achieve business success without worrying about online threats.

To schedule a Cyber Security Risk Review, call the Adaptive Office Solutions’ hotline at 506-624-9480 or email us at helpdesk@adaptiveoffice.ca