Working remotely is becoming more common in today’s modern workspace. Now more than ever, managers and leaders in all sorts of companies are seeing the benefits of allowing employees to take advantage of remote work. However, they are also thinking about the risks that come with allowing their staff to work from anywhere and what they can do to minimize these risks.
You or your company may be in this situation right now and wondering, what are the risks and how can they be minimized? We are going to breakdown the risks of remote working and what can be done to ensure you and your staff are doing your due diligence.
Allowing your employees to work remotely has a number of benefits; a larger pool of talent for roles when hiring, reduced commuting time for employees, more autonomy for workers and even increased productivity. A recent study of companies in the United States shows that approximately three percent of the entire workforce is currently made of remote workers and this is growing every year. However, this growing trend of remote workers is also leading to a growing trend in risks and breaches due to people working on unsecured networks.
What are the Risks?
To understand the possible solutions, we will need to first take a look at the risks of allowing remote workers. The most common risks for companies when it comes to remote workers are the following:
- Inability to ensure the physical security of a home office, coffee shop, public workspace.
- Unable to control or ensure the security of the network that is being used, both public or a home network that is shared with other users (family, friends, and guests).
- Lack of training or understanding of best practices when it comes to information security. This can be an issue for both workers at the office and at home.
- Remote workers not understanding their role and responsibilities when it comes to working remotely securely.
A company could reduce all these risks by simply not allowing their employees to work from home but they will miss the benefits as well and could fall behind to their competition that allows employees to work remotely. In order to get the “best of both worlds” by allowing employees to work remotely but also to reduce the mentioned risks, let us look at what we can do to mitigate these risks.
Steps to Mitigate The Risks of Remote Workers
Having a defined “Remote,” “Work From Home” or “Teleworking” policy is a must if your company plans on permitting staff to work from other locations that are not your office. This can help reduce the inherent risks of working remotely by establishing a set of procedures that your employees must follow in order to work from home. This policy should be used together with additional information security policies to outline all your employees’ responsibilities when it comes to your information security program.
Some examples of procedures that need to be included in your remote working policy include:
- Process for approving remote workers
- Defined responsibilities for employees
- Outline what each user must do to secure their remote workspace
- Outline workstation or device hardening steps (this can be a separate policy or reference another policy)
- Ensure encryption is used for all data that is stored and in transit
- Mandate use of a VPN for remote workers
- If there is an incident, outline the procedure for reporting it
While having a policy will help reduce the risks, the policy also needs to remain up-to-date and when it is being created or updated should have the input from your Information Technology team or an information security expert. Any policy involving information technology or data privacy should also involve someone who understands the subject matter and not only a member of the HR team. You must also remember that information security policies are NOT static documents, as threats change and new technologies emerge, your policies need to stay current as well.
Having a policy in place will let your employees know what they need to do and how to do it, but providing them with the right tools will also reduce the risks of working remotely. Depending on your company and the role of your employees these tools may vary. The following are examples of some tools that we have seen referenced in Remote Working policies:
- VPN, this will ensure that network traffic is encrypted, even on a public network like a coffee shop. This is also recommended in a home office if the home network is shared with others (family, friends, guests)
- Built-in Encryption, both Apple (FileVault) and Microsoft (Bitlocker) offer native tools in their OS’s to support encryption of hard drives on their devices. This tool, ensure that if your hard drive was lost, or device was stolen that is much more difficult for the data to be pulled off the device.
- Password Manager, these tools will help the user store their passwords and generate secure ones. They help reduce the risk of employees using the same password for all services
- Built-in Firewalls, both Apple and Microsoft have a firewall that can be enabled on any of their devices. This is great to prevent inbound or outbound requests that could be malicious.
Training and Best Practices
Having a policy and supporting it with tools can get your employees so far, but educating and training them on best practices will help to explain and outline why they need to follow the policy and use the tools.
Many companies offer some form of Security Awareness training. However, this training is usually done only once a year and can quickly become outdated. Having monthly or quarterly training sessions helps to keep your employees informed, educated on threats and their responsibilities when it comes to your organization’s information security program and working remotely.
Remote working can be a great thing for your company and employees but there are risks. In order to ensure the security of your company, its data, and your employees you need to have a foundation laid. This foundation should include a remote working policy (supplemented by additional information security policies), tools to protect your employees and training to ensure they understand their responsibilities.