Remote work is here to stay.
Even before the pandemic, an increasing number of employees were already working from home. A study done by Flexjobs found that the number of people working remotely has increased 44% just in the last five years alone.
Giving employees the option to work from home leads to greater job satisfaction and has even been shown to increase productivity. In fact, it was found in a survey that if given the choice between two similar jobs, 80% of workers said they would turn down the offer that didn’t allow flexible working options.
Looking at this, even companies are also making this option available to attract and retain talent.
It’s clear that more organizations are embracing remote work. However, giving employees the option to work from home also comes with major Security challenges.
Home environments simply don’t have the same safeguards as offices do. This can present a number of challenges, especially when employees handle sensitive information.
In this article, we’ll take a look at best practices for remote workers to follow to protect data privacy and security.
What is Data Security and Privacy?
Think about the customer data that your business handles — names, addresses, credit card numbers, etc. A potential data breach can wreak havoc on your reputation and hold your business liable for financial damages.
And that’s data about your customers. There’s also sensitive information about your business that you probably want to restrict access to.
Data security is all about preventing unauthorized access to company data. Organizations use tools and technologies like firewalls and data encryption to prevent outside parties from breaching their networks.
Data privacy is a branch of data security that ensures data is properly handled and used for its intended purpose. For example, you probably wouldn’t want a company representative to access your data aside from helping you with a customer service inquiry.
Data security and privacy is essential for any organization. But there’s also a potential for data breaches to occur when you have remote workers.
Employee negligence is a top data breach concern. A study found 86% of business executives believe the risk of a data breach is higher when employees work remotely.
If you have employees who work at home, then keeping tabs on data security needs to be a priority if it isn’t already. The last thing you want is for any sensitive information to fall into the wrong hands.
Implement these best practices in your organization to protect data privacy and security for employees who work remotely.
1. Establish a Cybersecurity Policy
A data breach can cause devastating consequences for any organization. Employees are often the weak links when it comes to data security. Even if your organization has policies around data, some employees may not be aware that those policies even exist.
A study by McAfee found employees in an organization cause 43% of data loss, half of which was accidental. The loss of sensitive data can be prevented by establishing a cybersecurity policy and communicating it to employees.
So, the first step is to establish a clear cybersecurity policy — a document that outlines how employees in an organization should handle sensitive information.
The cybersecurity policy you establish should outline things like how employees are expected to handle confidential data, how to protect company devices, and how to transfer data safely.
Then require all employees to review and sign the cybersecurity policy whether they work remotely or not. By taking these steps, you’ll show your employees that your organization takes data security seriously.
Regularly review and revise your cybersecurity policy as you implement new technologies into your organization.
2. Ensure Internet Connections Are Secure
Part of the appeal of working remotely is the flexibility it provides. You’re not tethered to a single location as you can choose to work from your home or your favorite cafe.
Working out of a cafe is certainly convenient as most places offer free Wi-Fi. But connecting to unsecured networks introduces significant security risks and should be avoided at all costs.
If employees connect to unsecured networks, there’s absolutely no guarantee of security while on that network. Hackers can access those networks and monitor communications that go through them.
At the same time, you don’t want to restrict employees from getting their work done at their favorite cafe. The easiest solution is to require employees to use a virtual private network or VPN when connecting to any public Wi-Fi network (even those that are password protected).
A VPN works by encrypting connection requests before they’re sent to the server. This level of encryption keeps data from being visible even on unsecured networks. Using a VPN also hides your employees’ IP address and location.
The benefit here is that your employees can choose to work from home or their local library.
3. Issue Work Computers
Part of your remote work strategy and cybersecurity policy should address the devices that employees will use to get their work done.
Letting remote employees use their own devices is another security risk to be aware of. If your organization has an efficient IT team, they’re likely regularly installing updates, running antivirus scans, and keeping networks secure.
The problem with letting employees use their own devices for work is they may not follow the same protocols. You don’t know if they have antivirus installed or if their operating systems are up to date. Personal computers that connect to a work network can increase security risks.
One way to address these security concerns is to provide remote workers with a work computer that they can use at home. Then, you can have your IT team configure those devices and keep them updated before distributing them to remote workers.
It’s also important to communicate the importance of securing home routers. Research from Bitdefender has found that hackers have found a way to home routers and change their DNS settings to redirect users to malware-infected sites.
Make sure that employees understand the importance of keeping their routers secure. This includes setting up complicated passwords, limiting access to the password, and ensuring that the software is updated.
4. Enforce Strong Passwords
One of the most common ways that hackers gain access to accounts and personal information is through brute force attacks — repeatedly guessing a password until they get it right.
If you use a simple password for any account, hackers can brute force their way in to access and steal sensitive information. Educating remote workers on the importance of using strong passwords is key to protecting your company’s data.
Here are the characteristics of a strong password:
- At least 12 characters in length
- Inclusion of uppercase and lowercase letters
- Inclusion of letters and numbers
- Inclusion of special characters (e.g., $%@*)
Equally important is emphasizing the need for employees to use different passwords.
39% of internet users use the same password multiple times. Again, this greatly increases the risk of hackers potentially gaining access to your work network and stealing sensitive data.
One way to help employees use strong passwords for their accounts is to use a password manager. These are applications that randomly generate passwords and store login information in an encrypted vault.
With a password manager, employees won’t have to struggle to remember their passwords. They can simply open the password manager and it will automatically fill in their login information for their accounts.
5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Passwords aren’t 100% foolproof as they can still be compromised — a password may have been revealed in a large data breach or a hacker may have used other sophisticated means to crack a password.
Enable 2FA authentication for all employees (even those who aren’t working remotely). Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an additional layer of data security that goes beyond providing a username and password.
To access an account, users will need to provide another piece of information, such as a PIN or security code that gets sent to their phone. If a hacker somehow knows an employee’s username and password, they won’t be able to gain access without an authentication code.
This extra level of security is another way to protect your company data. There are even more sophisticated authentication methods that use biometrics like fingerprint and retina scans to verify an individual’s identity.
While more expensive, these options may be worth considering, depending on your organization’s security needs.
The last decade has seen an upwards trend in the number of employees working remotely. More companies are now offering flexible work options in an effort to retain and attract talent.
But giving employees the option to work remotely isn’t without its challenges. Chief among them is the need for companies to address and mitigate security risks.
Start by developing a comprehensive policy around data security and privacy. The importance of effective communication cannot be stressed enough here.
Employees need to understand why data security matters and what steps they can take to protect sensitive information. Have all employees carefully review the policies you establish.
Remote work certainly has its challenges when it comes to data security. But once employees are educated and they follow the best practices outlined here, they can feel confident knowing they’re doing their part to keep company’s data secure.
Author bio: Joanne is a digital marketing expert specializing in SEO, eCommerce, and social media. She loves meeting new people and embraces unique challenges. When she’s not wearing her marketing hat, you’ll find Joanne fine-turning her music and art skills.
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Remote Work 101: 5 Best Practices to Protect Data Privacy and Security was originally published in ProofHub Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.