Four ways to mitigate security risks for your remote staff

February 16th, 2021 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. Heidi Kraak

While the home office boasts a raft of benefits, one consideration often forgotten by proponents of flexible working arrangements is that of network security.

Sure, eliminating the commute, improving work/life balance and cutting costs are all fantastic side-effects of working from home. However, the reality is that working-from-home arrangements represent a much higher risk to network security than in-office working environments.

One cyberattack can ruin your business in minutes.

If your business plans to allow staff to work from home in some capacity, mitigating security risks should be at the top of your agenda. Connecting remote staff to company resources is not as simple as ensuring they have an internet connection – according to a Microsoft study, security leaders are reporting their biggest challenge is providing workers with secure remote access to resources, applications and data.

Clearly, there’s a lot to think about if you want to minimise cybersecurity threats to your business in a remote-working environment.

Why are home-based working arrangements higher risk?

Most security-savvy businesses will have ensured all devices and office-space is protected by a range of systems to minimise the risk of cybersecurity threats. However, businesses have very little control over the remote working environments of their staff.

For many enterprises, the rapid transition of staff to remote working arrangements following the onset of lockdowns highlighted a number of these vulnerabilities – the most obvious, perhaps, was the use of insecure devices.

According to Deloitte, insecure personal devices are connected to enterprise networks every day without IT knowledge in 30 percent of US, UK and German companies. This is problematic from a cybersecurity perspective because personal devices may have vulnerabilities that company devices do not. Beyond basic antivirus software, most personal devices are not secure.

A study showed phishing attacks jumped by 40 per cent in Italy as the pandemic peaked in February and March last year. There was also a spike in malicious log-in events – attackers saw the opportunity – an increased usage of remote logins – and exploited it to garner user credentials.

For the most part, Australia has the coronavirus under control and lockdowns are subsiding, allowing remote workers to return to the office. However, having reaped the benefits of flexible working arrangements during lockdown, many businesses are keen to continue with a hybrid usage of work-from-home and in-office arrangements. These businesses need a strategy for how they will equip remote staff to access private company resources while also mitigating security risks.

How to minimise cybersecurity threats for your remote workforce

There are a myriad of ways to reinforce your business network. From a high-level, systems perspective, to simple staff processes, it’s best practice to implement a range of fortifying elements to your network to ensure remote work is not a risk to the functioning of the business.

Here are four key ways your business can improve cyber security for your remote staff:

1 – Invest in secure, scalable networking infrastructure

Legacy MPLS systems are reliable, secure and can be functional. However, they lack the scalability required for the deployment of remote workers.

While SD-WAN, or software-defined networking, is the relatively new kid on the networking block, it is changing the game. Centralised control not only allows businesses to direct traffic across the network from a single location, it also provides a level of visibility not available on legacy networks. This means network administrators can ensure security policies are functioning correctly, segment traffic and designate security policies to specific applications. In the case of an attack or breach, administrators can isolate the targeted application without compromising other applications. Revolutionary!

Additionally, MPLS links lack agility and cannot be deployed quickly. Whereas, administrators can rapidly provision SD-WAN links. This is handy if the workforce is in the office one day and working from home the next.

As dependence on remote work and cloud-based applications continues to grow, SD-WAN solutions will become increasingly necessary for enterprises to adopt if they want to save costs and maintain performance across the network. As such, adopting SD-WAN can be viewed as an investment to future-proof enterprise networks.

2 – Establish a VPN

A VPN – or virtual private network – functions like a tunnel, connecting a remote device to a company server. This allows the remote device to browse the internet using the server’s connection. The ‘tunnel’ is encrypted and shields the users’ web traffic – which could contain private company information – from exposure.

Remote access VPNs allow individual remote workers to connect to company resources, while site-to-site VPNs create a network shared between multiple office locations.

VPNs do require a lot of maintenance and can become a security risk if end-user login-credentials are compromised – if an attacker obtained VPN access credentials, they would potentially have access to the whole network. As such, it is recommended businesses are clear about what their specific security needs are, and have a clear plan for password security, before selecting a VPN.

3 – Install enterprise-grade security systems

Security systems, such as firewalls, can monitor network traffic according to designated security policies. There are a huge range of hosted firewall solutions that can provide your business with enterprise-grade security, including software, hardware, network, cloud and application-based firewalls.

While firewalls generally cannot protect against threats such as malware and viruses – antivirus software is recommended to counter those kinds of security risks – they can prevent unauthorised remote access and shield networks from malicious traffic.

To learn more about enterprise-grade security systems, download our free eBook here.

4 – Develop a robust password policy

Login credentials and passwords may seem elementary compared to some cybersecurity measures businesses can implement. However, establishing robust password processes can form a strong first line of defence against security threats.

At a very basic level, business should develop policies around password standards – for example, a password should be 14 characters long with upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Businesses can also implement two-factor, or multi-factor authentication, which adds additional layers of identification on top of a password. Other simple measures include investing in password management systems or secure password storage.

If you want to learn more about how to protect your remote workforce from cybersecurity threats, speak with one of our network experts on 1300 161 625.