April 4, 2019

How to Secure Remote Workers in Your Enterprise

Remote offices are becoming increasingly prevalent as businesses realize the benefits of offering the option to work from home. For example, productivity often improves for remote workers compared to ones that have to travel to an office. As noted by a medium.com article, “A whopping 91% of respondents in one survey said they’re ‘more productive when working remotely.’”

Other benefits of remote offices include being able to draw on a larger talent pool (since workers don’t have to make the trip to the office) and reducing overhead on office space (no need for a big office when employees can work from home).

However, as convenient as remote offices can be for remote workers and their employers, there are some security concerns that come with using a remote office setup. Being able to secure remote workers so the business isn’t exposed to data breaches or other liabilities is crucial for modern companies that want to benefit from having a work from home policy.

How can your business secure remote workers? Here are a few tips for securing remote workers:

How to Secure Remote Workers: Know Your Threats

Remote workers pose all of the traditional IT security challenges that internal employees pose—plus a few additional wrinkles that spring from not being located in the office. Some of the biggest threats that remote workers add include:

  • The Use of Insecure Connections. Many remote workers connect to the internet via public Wi-Fi hotspots in malls, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. These networks are either completely unprotected, or have a very simple (or publicly displayed) password that is easy for hackers to get. This allows for man-in-the-middle attacks that can be used to hijack and copy data in transit.

  • Employees Using Personal Devices for Work. Remote workers often use their personal devices instead of employer-owned devices when working from home. This often means that the employer has little to no control over the device’s security settings—such as how the device encrypts stored data (if it does it at all), what antimalware measures the device has, or how the device verifies that it has achieved a secure connection.

  • Lack of Employee Knowledge Regarding Cyber Threats. Many remote employees have no idea of the dangers they face when using remote work apps and solutions to connect to the business’ network. This may lead to them engaging in unsafe browsing habits that, if their devices aren’t using security settings to block these behaviors, expose the device and the business’ network assets to malware and other threats.

Securing remote workers to prevent cybersecurity issues can be a major challenge. However, knowing the security threats that are common to remote workers can help inform your IT security strategy. Many of the following tips are designed to specifically address these issues.

How to Secure Remote Workers: Establish a BYOD Policy

The term “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) may have the connotation of bringing personal devices to the workplace, but BYOD policies are just as relevant for remote office setups as they are for traditional “work from the office” setups. This is because remote workers so frequently use their personally-owned devices for work—connecting to sensitive business apps and databases.

Creating and enforcing a BYOD policy is a basic requirement for securing remote workers and cloud security as a whole. This BYOD policy should clearly spell out what is expected of remote workers regarding how they use their personal devices for work and what security rules they need to follow.

The BYOD policy should also explain how the company secures employee-owned devices used for work and what the penalties are for noncompliance. The language of this document should be as plain and explicit as possible to prevent confusion. Here, it can help to have a corporate lawyer review the document to verify its enforceability.

How to Secure Remote Workers: Use Virtual Private Networks

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are a common remote office cybersecurity measure. VPNs help to encrypt and anonymize connections between remote workers and the business’ network—making it harder for cybercriminals to hijack connection attempts with man-in-the-middle attacks.

The secure gateways used by a VPN can also help to partition your network from direct access. Enforcing the use of VPNs is crucial for ensuring secure connections with remote employees.

A potential issue with a VPN is that it adds extra steps to the login process and may slightly impact network performance because of the secondary gateway. However, the lag is not noticeable to most users—except in cases where the VPN server is extremely far from both the employee and the server containing the business’ network assets.

How to Secure Remote Workers: Use a Mobile Device Management Solution

While a BYOD policy outlines the expectations that the company has of remote employees, it does not directly enforce the use of specific security policies. A mobile device management (MDM) platform or security configuration tool, on the other hand, can help ensure that security policies are applied to the devices used for connecting with the business’ network assets.

With an MDM or security configuration tool, the business has a centralized dashboard for monitoring the security status of their employees’ mobile devices—and for deploying security configurations or tools to those devices. For example, an MDM can be used to make registered mobile devices install software to encrypt their locally-stored data. Meanwhile, a security configuration tool can be used to require registered devices to use data encryption or VPNs before being allowed to connect to the business’ network.

Some MDMs even allow companies to track the location of registered devices and remotely wipe their data in case of loss or theft. However, when applied to employee-owned devices, it is vital to ensure that employees are aware that the MDM can be used in this way, and in what circumstances device tracking or wiping features might be applied.

Using MDMs and security configuration tools to enforce cloud security policies such as device encryption, multifactor authentication, VPN use, strong passwords, and other basic cybersecurity measures on remote workers’ mobile devices can be crucial for avoiding data breaches.

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