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Cybersecurity best practices for remote teams (and everybody else, actually)

Remote work is all about the risk and the reward. It brings lots of perks to both employers and employees regarding flexible working schedules, higher staff retention, and improved productivity, as well as overall cost savings. What’s more, as per the International Workplace Group report, 75 percent of those surveyed already consider virtual working to be the new normal.

At the same time, remote work entails potential cybersecurity threats. If left undetected, they may lead to a range of disastrous consequences for a company’s reputation, revenue, and relationships with stakeholders.

Luckily, it’s possible to mitigate such risks by introducing wise guidelines and procedures that address every “what happens if.”

Сybersecurity best practices for remote teams:
Why you should care

  • Cybersecurity breaches have increased by 67 percent over the past five years. The most common dangers include malware and malicious files, denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), phishing and spear-phishing campaigns, SQL injections, and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks.
  • The recent data breach literacy research reveals that 64 percent of Americans have never run any tests to check if they were impacted by any data breach, and 56 percent said they wouldn’t know how to confront data violations.
  • One in three companies has faced cybersecurity incidents of varying severity due to an unsecured remote employee.
  • As reported by Cisco, only 27 percent of businesses are now leveraging multi-factor authentication (MFA) devices when accessing any kind of application.
  • Like any other global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a lot of room for online attacks. Cloudflare states that cybersecurity issues have risen by six times over the past weeks, with around 2,000 of obviously malicious coronavirus-themed websites set up daily.
  • According to Open VPN, 93 percent of respondents have a certain data cybersecurity policy, being unfortunately implemented in a “set-it-and-forget-it” way.

Sectors vulnerable to cyberattacks

If your remote access security goals are…

  • Embed cybersecurity into the risk management framework or update it if you already have one;
  • Make the newly remote workers aware of security risks that might occur;
  • Establish company-wide protocols to prepare for risk-free remote working;
  • Let remote teams safely access corporate IT infrastructure from anywhere, anytime;
  • Protect users’ apps and devices no matter on or off the network.

...here are the steps you should take to secure your data

While collecting the following tips, we were guided by our own experience in cybersecurity for remote teams. This way, we can ensure that you perform all necessary crash tests so your product boasts 5-star safety ratings.

Сybersecurity best practices for individuals

Сybersecurity best practices for individuals

Any fight against cybercrimes starts with individual employees’ active resistance. This is the case when safety is not primarily in numbers but in reasonable preventive actions taken by each part of the remote team.

Never, ever access sensitive data through unsafe Wi-Fi spots

Since networks enticingly called "Free Wi-Fi" may be set up specifically for harvesting the business's valuable data, it’s an inherently bad idea to access your corporate accounts through an unknown, unsecured Wi-Fi connection unless you are using a virtual private network (VPN).

Don't be too obvious when it comes to passwords

Passwords pose serious security risks in two cases: if they are either “123456” or “qwerty” types or anything saved in the Sticky Notes app. Coming up with a complicated password is vital, and adding an extra layer of protection in the form of two-factor authentication is strongly recommended.

Keep everything updated

The freshest security patches and updates play a critical role in safeguarding your data. Operating systems, antivirus software, firewalls, antimalware products, and routers are only a few of the things you should keep an eye on regularly. Ah, yes — don’t forget to enable automatic updates where it’s possible.

Encrypt your devices

As an employee’s device can be stolen or lost with all the stored information ending up in the wrong hands, leveraging encryption software is a must.

Device-level encryption “scrambles” the data, thus making it unreadable. To unscramble the assets, you should decrypt them with a decryption key or a passcode, which is often biometrics (face or fingerprint).

Automatic login - off, automatic locking - on

You will agree that it doesn’t make any sense to have a password-protected device with an activated auto-login.

Instead, take care of setting up automatic locking. Сonfigure an amount of time you consider convenient, and be sure your information is safe in case you need to walk away from your device.

Use a pinch of healthy suspicion

Every remote employee should keep in mind that cybersecurity starts in the real world. In this context, there are several basic rules that will help prevent exposing the data of your business.

  • In public places, don’t expose the laptop’s screen or leave devices unattended;
  • Avoid opening “fishy” emails and unsolicited attachments;
  • Execute files only from trustworthy sources for downloading software and your vendor’s official app stores;
  • Never click any browser or OS warnings without reading them carefully.

Сybersecurity best practices for companies

Сybersecurity best practices for companies

While much can be done by the individual employee, C-level executives should make cybersecurity awareness a priority and enact strategies to further reinforce the remote workers' defenses.

Create and communicate a remote-work security policy

Having a business continuity plan with a comprehensive IT assets management part is only half the battle. Most importantly, all remote workers should be perfectly aware of all corporate security procedures.

Consider creating written how-to guides for new software that remote teams will be using, and existing software that will be used differently, even though for you personally, it comes by default.

Additionally, provide regular cybersecurity training, and always keep the IT personnel well equipped. Establish clear communication protocols for IT support so that remote employees know who to turn to and report any cybersecurity incidents and technical issues.

Always use a VPN

Remote employees are often encouraged to use a virtual private network (VPN), thus helping maintain end-to-end data encryption. It’s vital to ensure that the VPN service is patched and up-to-date; also keep in mind that extra licenses, capacity, or bandwidth might be necessary to prepare for mass usage.

Bring your own device… at your own risk

While the “bring your own device” or BYOD policy is indeed popular in some circles, it’s not the most secure practice in terms of remote work.

We would not recommend letting employees transfer files between working and personal devices because it would be impossible to manage everything happening on their endpoints, control whether their software is of the latest version, etc.

Least privilege for maximum security

Enforcing least privilege user access means that every program and every user is granted the minimum set of privileges essential for completing the job. This principle limits the potential damage resulting from an accident or cyberattack. In other words, whereas a hacked admin account is a door straight to the company’s core system, a restricted user account is not the sweetest piece of the pie for attackers.

Monitor (and control) remote workers’ data usage

To date, the market boasts lots of applications designed for monitoring and reporting employees’ data usage. Such tools analyze traffic for all remote users connected to your business network, their time, location, and IP ports used during connections.

The functionality includes alerting upon any deviation, e.g., unauthorized network or data access, initiation of specific root processes, multiple login failures or login attempts at abnormal hours, etc.

Conduct an internal audit regularly

Verizon’s research claims 56 percent of security breaches took months or longer to discover. Consequently, the internal audit should occur on a regular basis — at least annually, ideally twice a year.

A proper cyber risk assessment identifies all cybersecurity loopholes and provides decision-makers with a roadmap for short- and long-term remediation work. The internal audit usually comprises vulnerability tests, penetration testing, compliance checkups, and other important cybersecurity activities for those tasked with corporate governance.

Nothing is 100 percent secure, but...

The only sure thing about cybersecurity for remote teams is, nothing is 100 percent secure. Relying on antiviruses alone is a utopian dream that won’t keep your data safe. Instead, join forces at all organizational levels and make things really complex, forcing hackers to find easier targets. Build defense properly, using multiple tools and guarding every single part and communication channel of your IT infrastructure.

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