17 Remote Work Security Risks & Best Practices
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In the age of digital transformation and shifting work landscapes, remote work has become the new normal for many organizations worldwide. While it brings a multitude of benefits, such as flexibility and increased productivity, it also unveils a new realm of cybersecurity concerns. With the workplace extended to homes, cafes, and essentially anywhere with an internet connection, the potential for security risks has never been higher.
Whether you are a small business owner, a team leader in a multinational corporation, or an individual navigating the remote work landscape, this blog post is crafted for you. Let’s dive in.
Check Point's Workforce Security Report reveals that 57% of companies indicate that more than half of their employees are working remotely for a minimum of two days each week.
Common security risks of remote working
1. Password sharing
Sharing passwords, intentionally or accidentally, can lead to unauthorized individuals gaining access to systems and sensitive data. For instance, an employee might share their login credentials with a colleague for convenience, but if these details fall into the wrong hands, it could lead to data breaches. Passwords should be kept confidential, and password management tools can be used to securely share access when necessary.
2. Email scams
Email scams often involve misleading messages designed to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. For example, an employee might receive an email that appears to be from their IT department asking for login details, but it is actually from a hacker. Education on recognizing and handling potential email scams is crucial for all employees.
3. Unencrypted file sharing
When files are shared without encryption, it leaves them vulnerable to interception. A remote employee might share a sensitive document over email or a file-sharing platform without encryption, allowing a hacker on the same network to potentially access and steal the information. Using encryption for all file transfers can prevent this risk.
4. Expanded attack surfaces
With remote work, every home network and device used becomes a new point of vulnerability or an 'attack surface' for cybercriminals. For example, an employee's smart home device might have a security vulnerability that can be exploited to gain access to the network where they are also doing their work. Ensuring all devices on a network are secure is vital in a remote work setup.
5. Unauthorized access
If a system is not adequately secured, it could be exploited by unauthorized users. This could mean a hacker guessing a weak password or exploiting a software vulnerability to gain access to systems and data. Implementing strong access controls and keeping software up to date are key measures against this risk.
6. Lack of visibility into remote activity
When employees work remotely, it can be challenging for organizations to monitor their digital activities. For example, an employee might download unsafe software or visit insecure websites without the IT department's knowledge. Employers can use remote monitoring tools to discover unauthorized SaaS app usage and policies to help mitigate risks such as Shadow IT.
7. Unattended computers
Computers left unattended and unlocked can be accessed by anyone nearby. A remote worker might step away from their laptop at a cafe, leaving it open for someone to quickly access or steal information. Employees should be trained to always lock their devices when not in use.
8. Insider threats
These threats can be malicious or accidental, with employees causing a data breach. An unhappy employee, for instance, might intentionally leak sensitive data, or a well-meaning one might accidentally send sensitive information to the wrong person. Regular training and strong access controls can help to minimize insider threats.
- 90% of cyber-attacks are due to human error. (See more cybersecurity statistics)
9. Use of personal devices
Personal devices usually lack the same security controls as corporate ones, making them a weak link in security. An employee might access work emails from their personal phone, which could be stolen or compromised, leading to data loss. A strong Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy is needed to address this risk.
52% of remote workers work from personal laptops, leading to remote work security risks.
10. VPN security issues
A VPN can create a secure connection for remote workers, but if not configured or managed properly, it can become a gateway for attacks. For example, outdated VPN software might have a known vulnerability that a hacker can exploit. Regularly updating and maintaining VPNs can help secure them.
73% of remote workers utilize VPN connections for their work.
11. Insecure network connections
Public Wi-Fi networks often lack robust security, making them easy targets for cybercriminals. A remote worker accessing sensitive work data on a public Wi-Fi might unknowingly allow a hacker on the same network to intercept this data. Using a secure VPN can protect data on public networks.
12. Insecure endpoints
Any device connected to the network, like laptops or smartphones, can serve as a potential entry point for threats. For example, an employee's personal laptop might lack the latest security patches, making it vulnerable to attack. A strong endpoint protection strategy is essential to mitigate this risk.
13. Phishing attacks
These attacks involve misleading emails or websites designed to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. An employee might receive an email that appears to be from their bank asking them to confirm their login details, but it's actually a phishing attempt. Regular training on identifying phishing attacks can help to prevent them.
Suggested reading: Biggest Data Breaches in US
14. Malware infection
Once inside a network, cybercriminals often seek to install malware to steal data, cause damage, or further infiltrate the system. For instance, a remote worker might accidentally download a file containing a virus, which then spreads throughout the network. Installing strong anti-malware software and educating employees about safe online behavior can help prevent these infections.
15. Lack of monitoring and control
Without the proper systems in place, organizations may not be able to detect potentially risky remote employee behavior, such as downloading unsafe software or accessing sensitive data they don't need for their role. Employers need to use appropriate remote monitoring and control tools to manage this risk.
Pro tip: IT teams can prevent a lack of monitoring over employee SaaS usage and security using a tool like Resmo.
16. Data privacy issues
Handling sensitive data outside the secured office environment can lead to potential privacy breaches. For example, a remote worker may unknowingly expose sensitive data by working on a public Wi-Fi network without using a VPN. Clear policies and training on data handling are important for maintaining privacy.
Almost half of the workforce, specifically 48%, working from home reportedly use their personal email accounts for conducting official communication.
17. Outdated software
One of the security issues with working remotely is outdated software. Out-of-date software often has known vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. A remote employee might neglect to update their operating system or security software, leaving their device and the network vulnerable. Regular software updates and patch management are key defenses against this risk.
Remote work security best practices
The following best practices can significantly enhance your organization's security posture when it comes to remote work:
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an essential tool for remote work as it provides a secure, encrypted tunnel for online traffic, preventing cybercriminals from accessing data. Ensure that all remote employees connect to company resources via a VPN, especially when using public Wi-Fi. Regularly updating and patching the VPN software can further enhance its security.
Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) greatly enhances account security by requiring more than one form of verification to access sensitive resources. It could be a combination of something the user knows (like a password), something they have (like a token or a mobile device), or something they are (like a fingerprint). Implementing MFA can help protect against password-based attacks, providing an extra security layer even if a password is compromised.
Only 46% of remote workers use multi-factor authentication to secure remote access.
Regularly Update and Patch Systems
Keeping all software, operating systems, and devices up-to-date is crucial in a remote work environment. Cybercriminals often exploit known vulnerabilities in outdated software, making regular updates and patches a fundamental defense against such attacks. Implement an automated patch management system where possible to ensure updates are timely and comprehensive.
Provide Security Awareness Training
Regular security training helps employees recognize and avoid potential threats, such as phishing emails or unsafe websites. Training should be ongoing and cover the latest emerging threats, equipping employees with the knowledge to navigate the online landscape securely. Consider simulated phishing exercises to help employees understand what to look out for.
In the last year, 38% of employees have stated that they haven't received any cybersecurity training specifically related to remote work.
Recommended for further cybersecurity knowledge: Best Cybersecurity Podcasts
Implement a Strong Password Policy
Employees should use strong, unique passwords for all systems and change them regularly. A password manager can assist in generating and storing complex passwords, reducing the temptation for employees to reuse passwords. It's also important to discourage password sharing among employees.
Encourage the Use of Secure Wi-Fi Networks
Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured and easily exploited by cybercriminals. If employees have to use public Wi-Fi, they should do so via a VPN to ensure a secure, encrypted connection. Home Wi-Fi networks should also be secured with strong passwords and up-to-date security settings. So your favorite cafe’s wifi is out of the question.
Set Up Firewalls and Antivirus Software
Firewalls and antivirus software are critical components of device security, providing an additional layer of protection against threats. Ensure all work devices, whether company-issued or personal, have these protective measures in place and kept up to date. Antivirus software should be configured to run regular scans, and firewall rules should be updated regularly.
Encrypt Sensitive Data
Encryption converts data into a code that can only be accessed by authorized users, providing robust protection for sensitive information. Employees should encrypt sensitive data during transmission and storage, particularly on mobile devices. Full disk encryption can also protect data if a device is lost or stolen. Consider file-sharing security best practices when you send business documents to your co-workers.
To prevent sensitive data from leaking, businesses employ various strategies. According to recent data, 43% of businesses use disk encryption on endpoint devices, 42% scan emails and office applications for sensitive data, and 30% conduct scans of files to detect sensitive content.
Limit Access Privileges
Implementing a principle of least privilege (PoLP) policy, as one of the best practices for identity and access management, minimizes each user's exposure to sensitive parts of the network. Employees should only have access to the systems and information necessary for their work. Regular audits can help ensure access privileges remain appropriate if roles or responsibilities change.
Monitor and Manage Device Security
Employers should monitor the security status of all devices used for remote work. Using Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions can help control security settings, ensure software is up-to-date, and even remotely wipe devices if they are lost or stolen. This practice is particularly important if employees use personal devices for work.
Have a Clear Remote Work Policy
A clear remote work policy sets out the expectations for remote employees, including which security measures need to be followed. It should cover all aspects of remote work, from physical security to data privacy. Regularly review and update this policy to address new risks and changes in work practices.
Also read: How to Onboard and Offboard Remote Employees
Regular data backups to a secure, offsite location help prevent data loss in the event of a cybersecurity incident like a ransomware attack. Ensure backup processes are in place for all critical data and systems and test these processes regularly. It's also crucial to secure backups, as they contain sensitive data and can be a target for cybercriminals.
Use Secure Collaboration Tools
Remote teams often rely on collaboration tools for meetings, project management, and document sharing. It's important to choose tools with robust security features and to educate employees on using these tools safely. Always ensure that any shared data is encrypted and access is appropriately controlled.
FAQ: Remote Access Security Risks
What are the cybersecurity risks of working remotely?
The cybersecurity risks of working remotely include phishing attacks, malware infections, use of unsecured Wi-Fi networks, unauthorized access due to weak passwords or password sharing, unencrypted file sharing, insider threats, outdated software, expanded attack surfaces, and lack of visibility into remote activities. It's crucial to implement strong remote work security policies and practices to mitigate these risks.
How can remote access security risks be prevented?
Preventing remote access security risks involves using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt data transmitted over the internet, enabling Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for extra security, regularly updating and patching systems, implementing a strong password policy, and providing security awareness training.
Is remote desktop a security risk?
Yes, remote desktops can pose a security risk if not properly secured. Risks include unauthorized access if login credentials are compromised, brute force attacks where attackers try to crack usernames and passwords, network vulnerabilities due to insecure Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) configuration, and data interception if the data transferred during a remote session isn't properly encrypted.
What are three important risks in remote management?
Three critical risks in remote management include cybersecurity threats, productivity issues, and communication challenges. Cybersecurity threats can arise from insecure home networks, outdated software, and phishing scams, potentially compromising company data. Productivity issues can occur due to distractions at home, lack of supervision, or difficulties in maintaining a work-life balance. Communication challenges may also arise, as remote teams can struggle with the lack of face-to-face interactions, leading to misunderstandings, reduced collaboration, and feelings of isolation among team members.
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