In recent times, many companies have found themselves having to manage a remote workforce. While this may be due to circumstance, there are advantages to such an arrangement that you can leverage for a competitive edge.
For instance, looking beyond physical boundaries may result in more potential talents coming on board. Still, proper safeguards are needed to secure what has essentially become an extended office network.
Whether you’re handling the “work from home” scenario temporarily or in it for the long haul, here are some of the ways you can improve cybersecurity for your remote workforce.
1. Ensure Adequate Encryption
Having employees or teammates distributed across multiple areas means that inevitably, data will need to be transmitted. Whether it’s a simple email or an essential contract, sending anything unencrypted isn’t recommended.
Many things are at stake if the data falls into the wrong hands, so it’s never a good thing to happen. From competitors gaining vital intelligence to reputational damage from leaked client information - anything can happen. Encryption is one way of ensuring all of your data stays safe.
There are several ways you can ensure that data is encrypted;
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs let you connect to secure servers at various locations before routing your data to its final destination. In the process, all data is encrypted, so you gain privacy and security using a single simple tool.
If you’d rather use a purpose-built tool, there are many encryption utilities available. However, these don’t fit into collaborative workflows as easily as the native encryption built into some applications or services.
Aside from just data, you may like to enforce device-level encryption for all employee equipment. Windows Pro has a built-in feature that allows this, but other utilities do the same job. Some examples include CryptoExpert and VeraCrypt.
2. Secure Collaboration Tools
Often, you’ll find it more convenient and, in fact, necessary to have a means for multiple people to work together on the same file or document. Having it sent around via email isn’t ideal, so use file storage and collaboration tools to facilitate this.
File collaboration tools allow multiple users to view and edit documents, sometimes even simultaneously. Features like commenting, highlights, and such help streamline the process. Most importantly, choose a collaboration tool with high levels of security.
Most of these tools can support the entire production process for anything, from document creation to modification and eventually approval.
3. Anti-malware Utilities
Between viruses, phishing attacks, and more, the Internet can be a dangerous place. Never leave your devices unprotected and put them at risk. Make sure you download and install an Internet security application from a reputable vendor like Norton or Avast.
These handy utilities protect your devices by scanning all files to see if they’re harmful. They can also protect you by blocking dangerous websites, monitoring the applications you install, or providing limited backup features.
While enterprise-scale Internet security solutions can get expensive, small businesses have a better option. Many Internet security applications today have consumer packages that support between five to ten devices. Grabbing one of those may be enough to cover your entire remote workforce.
4. Communicate Securely
At times you’ll need to communicate with clients and your remote team. You certainly don’t want anyone else eavesdropping during the process, so make sure any communication service you use is safe.
Most web-based communication applications and services come secure, but check to see if the one you prefer has any glaring risk. Zoom users, for example, went through highly embarrassing Zoom Bombing incidents sometime in 2020.
Here again, a VPN can also help you out. By always having secure links to any service, the risk of getting your communications intercepted is minimal.
Some chat applications also come with native encryption, so your texts remain private. For example, Whatsapp has end-to-end encryption, so only you and the recipient will be able to read those messages.
5. Keep Applications Updated
When developers release new applications, they’re ready for mass use but may still contain some bugs. Over time, new ones get discovered, and these often get fixed, then updates are sent out to the various users.
These updates often address serious security vulnerabilities and need to be downloaded and installed. While many applications do this automatically, some will not. Keep an eye on the applications you use and take note of the ones that need manual updates.
Where possible, set a schedule for application review and check them all to see if any action is necessary. If you find apps that aren’t in use, remove them rather than leave them in place as a potential security risk.
Remember that Operating Systems like Windows or Mac are also applications and need updating.
6. Enforce Strong Passwords
Given how many services we use today, many of us tend to keep simple passwords and sometimes even re-use them. This practice isn’t ideal since leaked passwords or data breaches are so common now.
Always ensure that your remote workers are aware of the risks of using simple or repeated passwords. Where possible, enforce the use of strong passwords. These are passwords that:
- Are at least 8 to 10 characters in length
- Combine upper and lowercase characters
- Include digits and special characters
- Are unique to each service and user
If you find it challenging to get your remote workforce to do this, consider signing up for a password manager. These tools help store passwords securely so your workforce won’t struggle to remember complex passwords.
Most password managers work well, and some even include a complex password generation utility that can create difficult-to-guess passwords on your behalf.
7. Multi-factor Authentication
A remote workforce often means the use of various services that provide collaborative utilities. Many of these have become more conscious about security and offer users an option to enable multi-factor authentication (MFA).
MFA makes use of an additional means of identity verification apart from the traditional username and password system. For example, you may need to approve a sign-in with your mobile device or an additional code sent to your email address.
The methods of MFA available will differ between services, but most will make use of an authentication application that resides on a mobile device.
8. Backup Systems
While working on the Cloud is increasingly popular, some employees will nonetheless keep files on local devices. This habit can complicate things, especially if they’re using personal devices for work. To keep things safer, establish a backup system to ensure that all files are duplicated regularly in a safe space.
It can be unrealistic to provide additional hardware to each of your remote staff for this purpose, so that the best bet would be secure Cloud storage. Indy, for example, offers a Cloud storage system you can use to store all kinds of data.
In some cases, you may also need an application to perform the backup, such as Acronis True Image.
Aside from Internet security applications, Firewalls provide an additional layer of intrusion prevention for your remote teams. Hackers frequently try to probe devices to see if there are open loopholes for them to exploit.
A firewall often stops them in their tracks by ensuring that all data moving in or out from a device is legitimate. The best part about firewalls is that you’ll likely already have one in place on most computers. Windows, for instance, has a native firewall.
However, because firewalls sometimes cause issues with specific applications, users try to disable them. This practice isn’t recommended, so ensure your remote workforce keeps their firewall active.
10. Include Freelance Staff
Remember that your remote workforce also includes freelancers that work with you. Many companies today make use of freelancers, from content writers to developers. While it may be impractical to include them in all your cybersecurity practices, you can at least require them to use secure tools when handling your work.
Many tools and utilities can help increase the cybersecurity of your remote workforce. However, there’s no replacement for common sense and proper training. Always ensure that your remote team is aware of the dangers of circumventing safeguards set in place.
It’s advisable to hold regular cybersecurity reviews and training sessions to keep staff updated on new cybersecurity threats and best practices.