Navigating the Challenges of Remote Work Cybersecurity
Working from home has become commonplace for many businesses, some catapulted by the pandemic.  Some businesses have embaced the remote model to reduce office space costs, gain a much larger geography for hiring staff, and enabling staff more flexible time managment.  The key to remote working is planning.  The winter prediction this year for the Northeast is snow which was little in the New York-New Jersey area last year.  Planning and exercising secure policies and protections can enable your staff to remain productive despite weather complications (driving conditions, weather related delays, children home for school closures that require your staff to remain home, etc.).

In the era of coffee-house conference calls and living-room link-ups, the landscape of work has transformed dramatically. As the boundaries between professional and personal spaces blur, the importance of cybersecurity in our homes has escalated. Remote work, once a luxury, has become a mainstay—but it comes with its own set of cyber threats. In this article, we’ll delve into the crucial strategies for securing your digital workspace from home.

The Reality of Remote Work Vulnerabilities
Working remotely has undoubtedly presented us with flexibility and comfort. However, it has also opened up a Pandora’s box of cybersecurity threats. The secure environments we took for granted within office walls—protected by enterprise-grade firewalls and security protocols—are often absent in our home offices. Phishing attacks, insecure Wi-Fi networks, and the risk of personal devices doubling as work devices have created a cocktail of potential security breaches.

Common Cybersecurity Threats in Remote Work

  1. Phishing Attacks
    Phishing attempts have soared as attackers prey on remote workers’ isolation and the less formal communication channels they might use.  Phishing is the leading attack method resulting in a successful breach.  The Colonial Gas Pipeline breach a few years ago succeeded by a bad actor using a phishing email.  Protecting against phishing attacks requires protection systems in email and on each computer combined with recurring security awareness training for all employees and monitoried by IT or company leaders (who must also participate in the training).
  2. Weak Passwords
    The convenience of using simple passwords for multiple accounts is a dangerous liability. Passwords should always be unique, built on multiple words with number(s) and/or symbol(s) totaling  at least 14 characters (note, websites and apps have their own specific requirements). Use a password manager to create random and unique passwords.  Enable and use Two Factor Authentication (2FA) on any site or app (many offer 2FA without enforcing it).  Most password managers also serve as authentication code generators (like Google Authenticator) so they can store your 2FA codes and supply them with your password to websites.  Remember to protect your password manager with a strong password you will know and 2FA (the key here is you won’t need to remember the passwords for all the other sites!).
  3. Unsecured Wi-Fi
    You should provide an employee with a company owned, managed, and protected computer for home/remote use. This ensures you control the security and function of the computer, including monitoring, patching, and maintenance.  The home Wi-Fi network, often less secure than corporate networks, can be a gateway for cybercriminals to intercept sensitive data.  You have no control over the home/remote network, what’s connected on it, how updated or secure it is, etc.  Educate employees on the dangers of public wireless networks and the vulnerabilities of other devices (particularly IoT devices) on wifi networks.  Ensure your company computers have comprehensive protection layers to keep them safe when traveling outside the controlled office environment.  Consider the use of SASE secure gateway networks which create private cloud VPNs for your computers while providing a uniform firewall and website content filer.
  4. Use of Personal Devices for Work
    The blending of personal and work devices can lead to inadvertent data leakage or unauthorized access to corporate resources. The strictest security environments provide all equipment (including mobile phone) to staff to ensure full company security controls and monitoring are employed.  You may opt to allow personal mobile phones instead of company provided devices, but you should deny their access to company data and resources or require certain security provisions.  Always provide company managed and protected computers to staff for use.  Establish a policy of not permitting personal computers to access company data and resources and establish safeguards to prevent them.  Even asking company email from a personal computer can expose threats or loss of data.
  5. Outdated Software
    Without corporate IT oversight, systems and software may not be updated regularly, leading to vulnerabilities. All company computers and devices should be monitored for health and updates.  Patches and updates should be reviewed and installed regularly to ensure optimal function and protection against exploits.  Threats do not need passwords or administrative access to breach your computer or steal your data.  Threats can be spread simply by compromised devices on the same network as your computer, or through other means like phishing.  Patching devices is one more protective layer against cyber threats.
  6. Physical Workspace
    The office may lend itself to a more “trusted” environment, but don’t let this false sense of security expose your data and systems to malicious employees or visitors or human mistakes.  Paperwork on desks or in unsecured cabinets can be easily stolen or observed by anyone walking around the office.  Sensitive data (HR, financial, perhaps medical, etc.) can be visible on the monitor or hardcopy on the desk.  These examples are more dangerous in the home or remote environment.  Unless there’s a specific need that can’t be resolved by other means, block USB storage devices like flash drives which can contain malware or be the lost or stolen, exposing your data.  Don’t allow printing at home unless absolutely necessary and take appropriate steps to ensure the confidentiality of that printing.  If home printing is necessary, supply a a managed printer and monitor print activity.  Establish a policy of restricting use of the business computer for only business purposes.  If you’re the business owner, conduct business on a fully managed and protected computer.  Reserve your personal computer activity to another device.  Use application control software to prevent installation or execution of programs on the computer to only those approved for business use.  Education staff on the dangers of online games and videos, software downloads, email threats, and even allowing their family members to use their work computer.  Work computers should have encrypted hard drives and 2FA protected computer authentication to ensure the data is safe, even if the computer is stolen.  Educate staff on the proper storage and care of the computer.

Best Practices for Remote Work Cybersecurity:

  1. Secure Your Network: Use a VPN to encrypt your connection, and ensure your home Wi-Fi is secured with a strong password and WPA3 encryption.
  2. Strengthen Authentication: Implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication for an added layer of security beyond just passwords.
  3. Regular Updates: Keep all devices updated with the latest security patches and software updates to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  4. Phishing Awareness: Be vigilant about unsolicited communications and train yourself to recognize the signs of phishing attempts.
  5. Use Trusted Devices: Where possible, use company-provided devices which are often fortified with enhanced security measures.
  6. Data Encryption: Encrypt sensitive files and use secure cloud services for storing and sharing company data.
  7. Separate Work and Personal: Maintain distinct boundaries between personal and work devices and accounts to minimize cross-contamination.
  8. Incident Response Plan: Have a clear plan in place for responding to security incidents, including whom to contact and immediate actions to take.

The Role of Employers
Employers must recognize the importance of supporting their employees in creating secure remote work environments. This support can include providing cybersecurity training, access to necessary tools like VPNs and secure cloud services, and maintaining open lines of communication for reporting potential threats.  Are you ready for this winter’s wrath?  Can you or your staff work effectively and proudctively remotely?