Though it existed in some capacity before the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home (WFH) exploded overnight as an acute response to worldwide lockdowns and society being all but brought to a halt. Three years later, the UN World Health Organization and other agencies have declared an end to the pandemic and offices have long since reopened, yet the ability to work remote or hybrid has shown to persist as more than just a temporary trend. To add some perspective, here are some notable statistics gathered from various sources in this article by Forbes:
- As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work a hybrid model.
- By 2025, 32.6 million Americans will work remotely.
- 98% of workers want to work remotely at least some of the time.
- 93% of employers plan to continue conducting job interviews remotely.
- 16% of companies operate fully remote.
Considering this shifting work structure, it is clear that businesses today need to adapt, oftentimes in ways that previously haven’t even been considered. One major area of importance is the protection of company data and assets. Theoretically, since a remote employee could be working anywhere, on any network in the world, the list of variables this introduces from a security and privacy standpoint is endless. At first, this sounds discouraging. But the good news is that many steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate the risks and better protect your business.
- Require (and Provide) Ongoing Training for Employees
People are overwhelmingly the #1 cause of security incidents or breaches. There are instances of employees with malicious and deliberate intent. But oftentimes it is a case of unintentional negligence or simply just a lack of knowledge or awareness. The best way to combat this is to educate employees on the risks and importance of security, best practices, and company policies. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done scenario either – ideally, it will become part of the company culture that everyone buys into.
2. Limit and Control Access to Systems and Data
It’s best to follow the zero-trust principle if your organization has employees work from home, whether full-time remote, or hybrid. Following this principle ensures that employees are granted access and permissions for the resources needed to fulfill their job duties. This applies to files, applications, and more. Does an IT administrator need access to the company’s financial operations platform? Should Legal and HR documents be universally accessible in the file storage system? If the answer to questions like these seems obvious, that’s because it should be – but knowing this and enforcing this is not the same thing. Consider actions such as managing users via an active directory and utilizing a cloud-based file storage solution such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
3. Establish Policies and Procedures for Secure Network Access
The most surefire way to protect internet traffic and fortify remote access for employees is to mandate the use of a virtual private network (VPN). When used correctly, a VPN will protect against data interception by encrypting traffic, masking location data and online activity, and even monitoring for suspicious files and malware. This is especially important if employees are working on a public Wi-Fi network, such as at a coffee shop or airport. And at home, other steps can be taken too, such as making sure the router is up to date, changing the default network password, enabling network encryption, and disabling broadcasting of the network.
4. Use a Mobile Device Management (MDM), Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM), or Similar Tool
Managing devices “in the wild” is much different than managing those on-site at a brick-and-mortar office building. Luckily, there are a plethora of MDM, RMM, and other tools available that can provide a solution for your business. While the acronyms and features vary between solutions, at the core is the ability to remotely administer and manage devices wherever they may be in the world. Some of the more common and prominent capabilities that can be leveraged include patch management, asset inventory, antivirus/malware protection, software restrictions, device encryption, remote wipe, and more.
As you can see, remote work doesn’t have to mean poor security. It can’t be denied that working from home does introduce new risks and challenges for businesses. Protecting yourself from cyber threats is an ongoing joint effort. By using these tips as a strong foundation on which to build upon, you can be confident knowing that the flexibility of remote work AND the security of company data and systems can coexist.