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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive and sudden transition from office-based work to remote working arrangements. According to some estimates, more than 80% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home in response to the outbreak. While some companies were prepared to make that shift, others have been forced to roll out incomplete or haphazard remote work policies to keep their employees connected to the newly virtual office.
Unfortunately, this unexpected change has created the opportunity for a new range of cybersecurity risks to impact networks. In order to keep essential data and applications secure, organizations need to think about whether their information security policies and controls are up to the challenge of safely facilitating a remote work environment.
Risks of Remote Work
Many business networks are designed with perimeter integrity in mind. They use firewalls and intrusion detection tools to prevent anyone outside the network from breaching its outer perimeter and gaining access to sensitive information. Unfortunately, opening the workplace up to remote work upends that approach because suddenly every employee needs to access the network from the outside rather than from within its secure confines.
This exposes network systems to substantial risk because it broadens the range of threats that could potentially impact the network. Instead of focusing primarily on a controlled environment where security professionals can easily manage access, remote cybersecurity strategy must think well beyond the confines of the office to account for a huge range of variables and potential vulnerabilities.
4 Biggest Worries for Remote Workers
1. Unsecure Remote Networks
The most basic challenge with remote workers is the fact that they’re using their home internet connections to gain access to their work networks. Unfortunately, consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers lack many of the same security protections found in their enterprise-grade counterparts, making them an attractive weak point for cyberattackers looking to gain easy access. If a hacker is able to breach an employee’s home network, they can easily use that foothold to access devices and connect to a company network, even ones that are protected by a virtual private network (VPN).
2. Unsecure Devices
Speaking of devices, a related challenge with remote employees is the sheer number of endpoint devices that could potentially be connected to the company network. Employees working from home are often using personal devices to access work-related data and applications. This is even more likely to be the case if the organization didn’t already have a remote work policy in place previously. Without oversight from IT personnel, it’s difficult to know what security measures are in place to protect those devices from the various forms of malware and viruses hackers use to access and manipulate them. Even worse, those personal devices are likely being used for non-work related activities or are being shared between different people in the home. This exposes them to a wide range of additional threats.
3. Phishing Attacks
Phishing scams are consistently one of the biggest cybersecurity threats facing any organization, accounting for as much as 90-95% of all successful cyberattacks. The reason these attacks are so successful is that they use deception and social engineering strategies to confuse users and trick them into taking actions that help hackers to bypass even the most robust security precautions. With so much confusion and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, cyberattackers have been quick to turn the situation to their advantage by creating a variety of scams that play upon people’s fears and their desire to help others.
4. DDoS Attacks
Remote employees are heavily dependent upon system uptime and reliable network access to do their jobs effectively. When the network goes down, they’re often left unable to access the data and applications they need. This dependence has attracted the attention of cybercriminals who specialize in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which inundate servers with access requests until they can no longer respond and crash under the strain. Without sufficient bandwidth solutions and DDoS mitigation tools in place, organizations could end up leaving their remote workplace incredibly vulnerable to disruption.
How to Manage the Risks of Remote Work
While there are several technical steps companies can take to shore up their remote cybersecurity, their first priority should be raising awareness among remote workers themselves. Employees need to understand that working from home isn’t the same as working from the office. They must be made aware of the potential security risks that their home WiFi networks and devices present, as well as what phishing strategies are being used to trick them into revealing sensitive information like passwords and other access data. When employees take a proactive stance on cybersecurity, they can mitigate many of the risks that are inherent to any remote workforce.
Of course, the burden should not fall solely upon the employees themselves. Organizations need to put the right security measures in place to protect their remote workforce and do their best to protect their most sensitive data and applications. They can start by discarding vulnerable VPNs in favor of zero-trust network access (ZTNA), which offers much more comprehensive protections and ensures that even in the event of a security breach, intruders will not be able to spread to other areas of the network.
Multi-factor authentication should be implemented across as many systems as possible to provide an extra layer of protection beyond passwords, which are easily compromised. Companies can also partner with managed security service providers (MSSPs) to shore up their endpoint security, threat management, and incident response. With key IT personnel being forced to work remotely, having a third-party service manage ongoing security needs can help address problems faster and more effectively.
Protect Your Remote Workers with Compuquip
Compuquip Cybersecurity is unique among MSSPs because our experience as a remote organization gives us tremendous insight into the security needs of companies shifting to a distributed workforce. Whether you’re looking to shore up your existing remote security protections or implement an entirely new remote workforce for the very first time, our team can identify potential risks and help you address the specific security needs facing your organization. To learn more about our remote cybersecurity services, contact us today for a consultation.