In many ways the modern workforce has been completely remodeled in the wake of the pandemic. From the rise of touchless technology to an increase in the popularity of flexible working hours, many office-based teams now operate using entirely different models to those seen just a few years ago.
The major talking point amongst the post-pandemic workforce, however, is the notable shift towards fully remote work. Data published in 2022 found that 26% of US employees now perform entirely remote roles, with 74% of US companies intending to implement hybrid work models in the future.
This shift towards a decentralized workforce has led many organizations to prioritize bespoke tech solutions in order to keep departments connected, but with more workers reliant on virtual programs, cyber-attacks and data breaches have been seen to rise by as much as 70% on a global scale.
To ensure that employers and staff can still benefit from the estimated 77% increase in productivity and reduced rates of absenteeism brought about by remote work, security and IT teams must invest in proactive solutions to cybercrime by developing a robust 2023 security checklist for remote teams.
The key to any well-connected remote workforce lies in intelligently implemented and maintained software solutions, though if these essential tools are not appropriately secured, the spine of the company could easily be infiltrated by hackers and entire computer networks could become compromised.
It’s likely that all active storage solutions, firewalls, software services and physical devices such as work laptops and phones will be connected in series, meaning if a potential cybercriminal successfully infiltrates just one integral system, an organization’s entire network may become vulnerable to attack.
If employees are left to their own devices, research suggests that 68% of employees will use the same password across multiple different accounts, meaning IT and security staff must provide robust cybersecurity training and enforce that staff utilize different complex password combinations to protect themselves.
Appropriate and effective password best practices include:
- Using at least 12 characters
- Ideally 16 characters derived from a set of 200
- Using different passwords for each account/device
- Changing active passwords every 90 days
Additionally, staff should be advised to avoid passwords containing information related to themselves, as this will limit the risk of social engineering or phishing attacks leading to data breaches, alongside avoiding sequential numbers like 0000 or 1234 as these strings can take less than a second to crack.
Just as access to work-related software and hardware devices must be appropriately secured behind strong password protections, teams must ensure that all data communications are fully encrypted to prevent potential cyber criminals from intercepting identifiable data and using it for nefarious means.
By enabling encryption on all devices and software programs, any important information sent between connected devices will be encoded in such a way that the data will become indecipherable to any unauthorized persons who do not possess valid credentials, reducing the likelihood of data breaches.
Most modern operating systems and hardware devices contain native encryption solutions designed to make encoding transmissions a simple process, though not all systems have encryption services enabled by default. Here’s how to enable encryption within the three most popular operating systems:
- MacOS – Enable the FileVault function in system preferences
- Windows – Enable BitLocker encryption in privacy and security settings
- Linux – Use dm-crypt, cryFS, cryptmount or any other similar service
For organizations utilizing smartphones as part of their daily operations, all devices operating Android v6 and above as well as all IOS 8 and above models will have native encryption enabled by default, though older versions of these operating platforms will require encryption to be manually activated.
Even when operating strong password protections and encrypted communications, sophisticated hackers may be able to brute force or intercept identifiable information and use this to gain access to software or hardware devices. Businesses can reduce this risk by utilizing multi-factor authentication.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides additional layers of protection by requiring users to present a minimum of two forms of valid credentials before allowing access to any device; this means that even if a primary password is stolen, hackers will be unable to log in without extra forms of evidence.
MFA can be utilized either as an additional password, a biometric indicator such as smartphone-based fingerprint or facial recognition scans or as a one-time passcode sent directly to staff via an encrypted message and has been shown to reduce serious cyber-attacks by as much as 99.9%.
Considering that 81% of all global cyber-attacks come as a result of poor or insecure password practices, enabling and utilizing some form of multi-factor authentication when controlling access to vital software and hardware devices should rank as a top concern for any remote working teams.
If an organization has committed valuable time and effort into implementing intelligent password protections, encryptions and MFA processes, it would be catastrophic to see essential systems infiltrated as a direct result of poor personal practices in relation to staff misusing work devices.
One of the major benefits of working remotely is that employees can see to small personal tasks during downtime from work, though if staff are to log into personal platforms such as banking services, online shopping or email apps from work devices, entire networks can be compromised.
IT and security teams must ensure that employees maintain a strict sense of separation between personal devices and company networks to reduce the avenues in which hackers can exploit security weaknesses. This means barring staff from connecting to company networks via personal hardware.
If an employee is to log into company systems via an unprotected personal phone or computer, sensitive information can become exposed to cyber criminals and hackers may be able to use this data to infiltrate wider security systems, databases, servers and cloud-based management platforms.
Updates and patches
The various software programs and operating systems utilized by remote teams must be regularly updated and patched to ensure that cyber criminals are not able to exploit newly uncovered weaknesses. As hackers become more sophisticated, so too do their methods of infiltrating systems, leading to 60% of victims reporting to have been breached due to an unpatched system vulnerability.
Most modern systems will be configured to apply new software updates and patches automatically, though IT and security teams must ensure that remote staff are aware of how to oversee these procedures appropriately. For example, most devices must be allowed to restart to safely perform updates, whilst critical data should be backed up to a secure cloud server before applying patches.
Additionally, teams must make sure that all relevant software licenses are up to date before engaging in scheduled updates to prevent operational issues, and cybersecurity teams should remain vigilant in searching for potential new ransomware bugs and viruses that could affect newly updated software.
By utilizing integrated management platforms, organizations operating both remote teams and on-site services can manage their entire workforce from one interconnected platform, rather than relying on multiple programs that lack combined insights. This can be achieved by implementing a hybrid-based system using both cloud and on-premises servers to host essential programs and store relevant data.
This configuration can be particularly useful for organizations operating physical security features like commercial security camera systems and access control devices, as security staff will be permitted to view and adjust controls remotely from one connected platform to provide 24/7 incident responses.
Additional benefits to the operation of an integrated management system include the ability for remote teams and on-site staff to collaborate on projects using the same software, and remote workers being able to access all on-premises resources to help improve productivity and reduce IT support tickets.
When designing, implementing and operating any form of integrated remote access technology, IT and security teams must dedicate as much attention to cybersecurity training as they do to developing robust security policies. Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report found that up to 82% of recorded breaches involve human error, indicating that many attacks could be avoided with training.
Teaching staff how best to protect themselves from cyber-attacks must be an ongoing process, as hackers work tirelessly to find new exploits and vulnerabilities in commonly used software and hardware systems, so regular sessions should be scheduled to inform remote teams of new threats.
IT and security officers should focus on key aspects of cybersecurity such as teaching staff how best to avoid social engineering attacks like phishing and baiting which are involved in 98% of all reported cyber-attacks, as well as how to identify and avoid other common threats and scams such as:
- Malicious email attachments
- Domain hacking and cybersquatting
- Scareware, ransomware and spyware
- Fraudulent browser plugins
Remote staff should also be trained to follow OPSEC protocols when accessing any social media or public web-based profiles, as well as taught to never install software applications or programs that haven't been approved, checked and verified by professional cybersecurity and IT support teams.
As the popularity of remote and hybrid-based work models continues to rise, and more organizations begin to benefit from the operation of integrated management platforms and software solutions, IT and security teams must ensure that both remote and on-site staff are well equipped to work safely.
By following cybersecurity best practices and implementing multi-faceted protections such as complex passwords, encrypted communications and MFA policies, remote teams will be appropriately positioned to avoid common cyber threats and ensure the protection of essential company systems.
The key to effective cybersecurity lies in frequent training and strict security policies, meaning teams that remain vigilant in identifying, reporting and avoiding potential weaknesses will ensure that their networks can be optimized and maintained to improve productivity and streamline daily operations.