Many businesses today have adopted remote working as a more productive working model for their employees (Read: Seven Benefits of Working Remotely). However, in addition to the advantages it offers to businesses and employees, we also need to consider some risks. For example, working remotely can potentially create fertile ground for various cybercriminals.

Hackers and cybercriminals target remote workers to access business data and information. Typically, these employees do not have the same protection against cyberattacks as when they work from their Office. This is mainly because the environments from which they are connected are not always sufficiently protected. For example, in the home, the equipment that connects users to the Internet is usually inferior to the corresponding equipment in a business. Also, in a cafe or a public place, other users with infected mobile devices may connect on the same local network with the risk of infecting the remote worker's device.

In this article, we will see the consequences of a data breach for businesses, the most significant data breach risks and how we can protect our data from these risks.

OpenShop - Data Security: Protect your data when working remotely - Blog

Consequences of data breach

Statistics show that hackers and other cybercriminals target 78% of small and medium-sized businesses (reference). As a result, companies that think they can get away with lax security policies because of their size often make a costly mistakes. Do you believe your remote workers are adequately protected from cyber attackers and fraudsters? If you think your business is too small to interest cyber thieves, think again. There are severe consequences if proper security and training are not in place for remote workers who handle sensitive customer data and other private information, such as:

  • Loss of intellectual property and other private information. Fraudsters know what information brings the most profit on the dark web, and they try to exploit remote workers and less-secure networks to get their hands on it. When this private information contains sensitive data about the business's clientele, it can also cause trust issues. Businesses may lose customers as a result of the data breach. In addition, they may face lawsuits depending on the severity of the violation and the data leaked.
  • Damage to business reputation. When a data breach involves sensitive information such as credit card numbers, phone numbers, email correspondence, and other personal and financial information, your customers will be reluctant to trust your business again. Your potential customers will also be warier in doing business with a company that cybercriminals have extensively attacked.
  • Financial loss. If the IT infrastructure is attacked, there is a serious possibility that this will lead to a significant loss of revenue. In addition to losing customers due to the data breach, as we mentioned above, you also risk losing significant time due to the outage as your business's IT department works to restore services. Additionally, remote workers will not be able to work during this time. Other costs, which can potentially be overcome relatively quickly, include fines and fees for disclosing customer personal data.

Common risks and how to avoid them

While remote workers pose a threat, even unintentionally, to the security of any network, the risks can be significantly reduced by following some good security practices. Moreover, these best practices provide additional protection against cyber fraudsters. Next, we'll look at the most common data security risks and what your business can do to protect itself from these risks.

Risk #1: Phishing

The Risk: Phishing is the attempt by cybercriminals to pose as a trustworthy person or entity in order to extract sensitive information from targeted individuals. This scam attempt is usually made via email. It's hard to blame the recipients who fell victim to these types of scams because cybercriminals have become skilled enough to make these messages look so believable that they're hard to identify. If an employee is fooled, they can give a cybercriminal everything they need to hack accounts, steal sensitive data, and even commit serious financial crimes.

The solution: Proper employee training to identify and avoid phishing emails.

Risk #2: Passwords

The Risk: Using a VPN does not guarantee data security if remote workers use weak passwords to connect to your business's IT infrastructure. Exploiting human error is a tactic used by many hackers because it is practical, as 95% of all cyber incidents involve human error. In addition, cybercriminals are easier to trick remote workers than to bypass sophisticated security software. Therefore they target the weakest link in the chain, the user.

The solution: Password policies and Two Factor Authentication (2FA) are the best combinations.

A good password policy includes:

  • Prohibiting the use of personal information in passwords.
  • Providing the benefit of unique passwords for each account.
  • Requiring users to change their passwords frequently (passwords with an expiration date).

Avoid simple passwords that contain only numbers or only letters. Passwords that include random groups of words strung together are harder for hackers to crack, especially when they combine numbers and symbols. Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra step to the authentication process by either sending a unique code to your phone or scanning your fingerprints to verify your identity and prevent fraudsters from accessing sensitive information.

Risk #3: Home and Public Network

The Risk: Remote workers connect to your business's IT infrastructure using their home network or a public wireless network such as at a Cafe. This raises some security issues. Even if your employees use mobile devices (laptops, cell phones) provided by the company, they are still using these devices on their home network or on the public network (e.g. Cafe), which is not as secure as the one they use in the Office. Additionally, remote workers often overlook updates to the operating system and installed applications. Failure to complete these updates makes it easier to breach home and public networks and, therefore, easier to access business data.

The solution: Educate remote workers on the importance of periodically updating the operating system and applications of their business and home devices. In addition, consider providing your employees with a firewall that will give them better security on their home network and when connecting to any public network.

Protect your data

Don't wait until your business suffers a data breach. It is essential to consult IT experts who can help you keep your data safe. Your IT team should be able to put in place processes that protect your business and customer data. At OpenShop, our engineers specialise in data security, remote support, and IT infrastructure maintenance and optimisation services.

If you are considering a project to protect your data, please fill out the form on the contact page. We'll answer all your data security and remote work questions and get your project started on the right track.

About the author: Christos Zacharopoulos

Christos Zacharopoulos studied Computer Networks and Security at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom and graduated with First Class Honours. He has been working in the IT field for over 20 years now. He is the CEO and Founder of OpenShop Foundation, a provider of integrated IT solutions.

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