Pre-pandemic, the concept of working from home had mixed reviews. Proponents of remote work claimed it increased productivity, provided better results, reduced overhead, and created happier employees. Those who preferred the traditional office environment insisted working remotely hurts collaboration, limits visibility into employee productivity, requires expensive technology, and leads to lonely, disengaged workers.
Whatever your stance on what the ideal work environment looks like, when COVID-19 hit, many of us had no choice but to move out of the office and into the world of remote working.
Within weeks, millions of people were working in home offices, which opened up a whole new set of security concerns. IT teams scrambled to figure out how to secure company applications and data when the company’s security perimeter all but vanished.
Exacerbating the risks of inadequate security infrastructure was the need for many employees to use personal devices to access business-critical resources on the company network. Remote connectivity options aren’t always the most secure, and cybercriminals are keenly aware of this vulnerability.
Almost as soon as COVID-19 sent workers running for their hastily set-up home offices, cybersecurity experts noted a surge in attacks targeting remote workers and using COVID-19-themed phishing attempts.
As the dust begins to settle and some organizations opt to keep employees working from home for the foreseeable future, putting a sustainable, comprehensive security strategy in place is a high priority. Here are four ways to protect data and secure business-critical applications and systems in a remote work environment.
Educate Employees About Safe Surfing and Clicking
Many successful cyberattacks are user-initiated—that is, they rely on a human to click a bad link, open an infected attachment, or visit a malicious website.
Knowledge is power when it comes to reducing the risk of human error in cybersecurity. Create an ongoing education program for remote employees that focuses on preventing data loss and security breaches. Include information on relevant topics including how to identify malicious links and websites, what to do if an email attachment looks suspicious, and proper protocol if an employee thinks their device or account has been compromised.
Invest in Third-Party Backup and Data Loss Protection
Enterprise IT systems are often spread across cloud, virtual, and physical platforms, each with its own vendor and management interface. These highly complex infrastructures can broaden the organization’s attack surface and make them more vulnerable to cyberthreats.
Investing in a third-party data protection solution powered by a unified cloud-based management interface reduces some of that complexity. Look for a provider that offers data protection both in the cloud and on-premises; that backs up from all storage types, including cloud, disk, and tape; and that integrates with a wide variety of applications from Exchange to Lotus Domino to SQL Server.
With more than half of companies relying on Microsoft Office 365 for email and critical business operations, it’s also crucial for these users to implement a comprehensive backup solution. Microsoft’s Shared Responsibility model means that in the event of a ransomware attack, natural disaster, or other unplanned outage, if you didn’t back up your Office 365 data with a third-party provider, you’re out of luck.
Install Centrally Managed, Cloud-Driven Cybersecurity Solutions
Managing cybersecurity for different systems and applications from multiple interfaces is not just inconvenient; it’s dangerous. With no system-wide visibility into who is doing what inside your network and where your weaknesses are, it’s only a matter of time before a breach occurs—and it could come from inside or outside the organization.
Working from home increases the number of remote endpoints and essentially does away with the physical security perimeter. To beef up security in this type of environment, you need to implement a combination of cybersecurity and identity and access management (IAM).
Modern cybersecurity tools offer advanced detection and response technology that uses AI and deep learning to detect and block both known and unknown malware. Deploying a robust IAM strategy that includes the latest authentication and authorization practices such as single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, and risk-based authentication ensures only the right people have access to the right systems and applications in the right context.
Implement a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan
Business continuity in a crisis is a top-level priority, no matter where your employees are sitting. In these uncertain times, it is crucial to have an easy-to-implement, fully tested business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place.
The overarching goals of your business continuity plan should be::
- Maintain high availability
- Meet SLAs to retain customers
- Protect company data and resources
- Minimize costs and revenue loss
- Prevent legal and compliance implications
- Keep the company running
The specifics of your business continuity plan will depend on your organization’s business objectives and priorities, but at a high level, your plan should include a business impact analysis, a comprehensive list of risks, a step-by-step recovery plan, and secure backups. For the latter, we recommend using the 3-2-1 backup strategy: Create three copies of your data, store them on two different media, and store one of those copies off-site or in the cloud.
As businesses and the economy struggle to find their footing post-pandemic, it’s too soon to say whether remote work is here to stay. In the meantime, it’s vital for IT teams to increase security in ways that address the challenges remote work introduced.
To learn more about setting up employees in a secure, productive remote work environment, download The Essential Work from Home Guide.