Before 2020 shook up all of our lives, remote working was considered the domain of freelancers, artists, and self-employed people. When the pandemic struck, however, many office-based workers were forced to carry out tasks from home.
As you’re probably well aware, this shift produced a surprising range of benefits. Employees enjoyed a better work-life balance, and businesses lowered expenditure. What's more, working from home boosted the productivity rates of around 32.2% of companies.
The resounding success of this unplanned experiment in how we work means 74% of organizations plan to move at least some of their employees off-site for good. According to recent stats from Upwork, around 22% of the US workforce will work remotely by 2025.
Shifting to remote ways of working requires preparation.
The benefits of remote working are undeniable. However, if you plan to move parts of your workforce off-site, you must ensure your network is equipped to handle cybersecurity threats.
At the beginning of the pandemic, cyberattacks aimed at remote workers increased by 23%. Without the necessary security infrastructure in place, many small businesses found themselves picking up the pieces of costly and reputation-damaging data breaches.
So, what should you be doing to secure your network and protect your business from cybercriminals? While strengthening your defenses may sound expensive, there are plenty of affordable options out there for small businesses. Here’s how to go about creating a long-term, sustainable security plan:
Assess your vulnerabilities.
Your cybersecurity strategy will need tweaking if your employees aren’t accustomed to remote ways of working. Factors to consider when assessing your security risks include:
- Does the remote employee have access to sensitive data sets that they don’t require to perform their job?
- Are your employee’s personal devices protected from hackers?
- Do you prevent staff members from sharing company devices with friends, roommates, and family members?
- Do your employees use strong passwords across your company network and SaaS programs?
- Do your employees install updates and security patches as appropriate, and can you tell if they did?
Provide mandatory training sessions for those new to remote working.
Remote workers are more vulnerable to phishing scams and other types of cyberattacks than in-office staff. As such, you must provide training sessions to help employees understand all the risks associated with remote work. Do you have a Security Awareness Training program in place for all employees?
Install protective software across all remote devices.
Before handing business-owned devices over to employees, equip them with firewalls and security patches to prevent malware and other kinds of attacks. If you’re worried about the cost of protective software, there are plenty of free antivirus applications available online. The cost of not doing anything will be far higher for your business if your employees are the victim of a cyber breach or hack.
Set strict password rules.
Despite being relatively easy to avoid, weak passwords represent a common cause of cyberattacks. As such, you must set out stringent password requirements for all employees, such as:
- Ensure standard user passwords are at least eight characters long
- Include a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters
- System passwords must be even longer – up to 50 characters
- Never repeat passwords across multiple applications or system accounts
- Disable password hints
- Store passwords using encryption
- Use a vault such as Keeper if you have too many passwords to handle
At Blueteam Networks, we highly encourage you to introduce multi-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security to employee passwords.
Prevent data losses with backup solutions.
Remote workers accessing cloud solutions are likely to lose data at some point, and even a single file deletion could end up wreaking havoc across your business. In this case, you need to invest in backup solutions to ensure lost files are retrievable. These systems are also critical to any company that is subject to compliance in its relative field. Even small businesses should have backup and disaster recovery systems and processes that offer a high level of protection from catastrophic events and errors.
Update your Acceptable Use Policy.
Your Acceptable Use Policy may need revising in light of the move to remote working. For example, you may need to edit clauses surrounding file access and software installs. Once you have amended the policy, ask employees to sign or e-sign the latest version. If you don’t have an AUP contact a managed service provider.
Actively encourage employees to report suspicious activity.
Try to instill a culture of openness and honesty surrounding cybersecurity in your workforce. While it is important to emphasize the danger of phishing scams, you don’t want to scare workers out of reporting incidents. Encourage workers to come forward if they unwittingly open an infected file – accidents happen, after all. Many organizations offer some type of reward to employees that report suspicious activity. Implementing Security Awareness Training company-wide whether workers are in the office or working from home activates your employees as a last line of defense or human firewall.
Set access restrictions for certain files and applications.
Most employees don’t require access to your entire network of files and applications. To limit the possibility of cyberattacks and accidental security slip-ups, set access restrictions for employees based on their role and level of responsibility. Our managed service plans include tools to help you do this quickly and easily.
Enlist the help of professionals.
If you run a small to medium-sized business, it is worth investing in a professional security audit to find dangerous holes in your systems? A managed service provider can help you protect and manage your network in a cost-effective way. Contact us today for a free, no-pressure consultation.
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