Remote work security is the branch of cybersecurity specifically concerned with protecting corporate data and other assets when people do their jobs outside of a physical office. Employees who work remotely require remote work cybersecurity due to a variety of scenarios, such as when they work from home, travel for business, or when they do their jobs in any location outside of the company’s offices.
Security risks of working remotely
Remote work is an increasingly common paradigm, but traditional IT security approaches have long been perimeter-based, meaning they were primarily concerned with what happens inside of the office and the corporate network.
When users perform their job duties from remote locations such as a home office or airport lounge, the potential security threats increase, because people are accessing corporate data and systems from outside of the corporate perimeter. Remote work security challenges may include:
- Unsecured Wi-Fi networks: Accessing corporate data and systems from poorly secured public or home Wi-Fi networks could open up a corporate network to unauthorized access.
- Bring your own device: The increasingly common practice of using personal devices such as laptops or smartphones for work creates a proliferation of devices that may not adhere to corporate security protocols.
- Human factors: Human nature presents one of the largest security risks. Employees who lack an understanding of security risks may be susceptible to cyber attacks such as phishing scams. Or, distracted employees could unknowingly expose their login credentials in a public space.
- Lack of training: A lack of remote work security awareness and training. Employees who are not trained in security best practices are more likely to use weak passwords and expose their company to risks in other ways.
- Decreased visibility: When employees work in remote locations, the IT staff lacks visibility into the endpoints employees are using and potentially risky user behavior.
A remote work security policy is an organization’s documented plan governing all rules and procedures for any employees performing their job duties outside of a company-run office. Such policies typically cover all major components of digital security, including password hygiene, access management, device use, data protection, regulatory compliance, security awareness training, and more.
A comprehensive remote working security policy is a foundational set of best practices for minimizing and mitigating the risks inherent in a remote workforce. In fact, a common reason why some organizations struggle with remote work security is that they neglect to develop and implement such a policy as a distinct piece of their overall digital security.
Remote work security best practices include implementing strong security protocols and technologies for remote access, educating employees on identifying risks and staying safe, and strengthening your general security hygiene (such as strong, frequently changed passwords) even when people aren’t in the office.
Most organizations cannot avoid remote working security risks altogether. Instead, they take proactive steps to manage and minimize risks. These proactive steps usually fall into two overlapping categories:
Tools & Processes
There are several critical technologies to consider for reducing remote work security risks. They include:
- Identity Access Management (IAM) & Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Companies need tools for effectively managing and monitoring secure access to their corporate systems and data, regardless of the user’s location. An IAM platform is one such tool. Some organizations also require multi-factor or two-step authentication whenever users sign in to a corporate system. Security professionals commonly apply the principle of “least privilege” to access management, meaning that people are only granted access to systems and data that they absolutely need to successfully perform their job duties.
- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): Another important method of securing remote workers is to require the use of a VPN when accessing company applications and data. A virtual private network adds a layer of security when accessing the corporate systems from outside of the office.
- Encryption: Encrypting data helps organizations ensure that their information is protected at all times, including when it moves beyond the corporate network.
- Endpoint management: Security teams need to ensure they have proper visibility and oversight of the various devices employees are using when working from home and other remote locations. Personal devices that are used for work should be required to comply with corporate security protocols.
- Monitoring and testing: Monitoring environments for unusual activity and other signs of potential threats can prevent or stop a security breach before too much damage is done. It is also a good idea to regularly test systems for potential vulnerabilities.
People & Culture
Technologies and policies alone cannot completely protect an organization. It is also up to individuals to take steps to ensure they maintain security when they work remotely. Companies can help promote a culture of security in various ways:
Properly equipping people with the tools and technologies they need to do their jobs remotely.
- Making sure people are aware of all company policies and procedures regarding remote working, including the use of personal devices, social media, and so forth.
- Offering practical training and tips on security risks, such as phishing and social engineering threats, password hygiene and securely using videoconferencing platforms and other remote working tools.
- Recognizing and rewarding good security behavior, rather than creating a culture of fear and blame.
One of the most important strategies for remote work security is remote work security awareness—recognizing and acknowledging that security risks exist. That may sound simple, but it is the common denominator in both the technology and the people parts of remote work security. Failing to recognize that there are some inherent security challenges in working remotely increases the likelihood of security incidents occurring. This is particularly true because the use of technology has become second nature to us.
Many people do not understand the difference between going online in the office versus at home, because the experience seems fundamentally the same. A secure remote workforce begins by ensuring that risks are properly identified so companies can put the tools and training in place to mitigate them.
Working from home, in particular, comes with its own specific concerns relative to other remote work security challenges. Here are some useful tips for improving security when people work from home:
- Separate logins: Encourage all employees to use separate login credentials for personal and professional accounts.
- Secure home network: Educate people on how best to secure their home Wi-Fi routers and networks. For example, many popular routers come with easily discovered administrator credentials and should be updated for stronger security.
- No blame: Give people a “blameless” method of reporting potential risks, such as a misplaced device or suspicious emails and other communications.
- Communication: Communicate regularly with staff who work from home to share best practices, emerging risks, and other relevant updates.