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Who is accessing your systems?Now in its third year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed how and where we work. Working remotely has proven to be more than a temporary workaround. For many, it’s become a permanent way to work and conduct business, even a new way of life. Over 4.7 million Americans work remotely at least 50% of the time.

According to Owl Labs, a video conferencing product manufacturer, 2021 was the year the world stayed remote. Unsurprisingly, a virtual work style has created opportunities and distinct advantages for businesses and employees. Virtual work has also generated new cybersecurity risks. A Mercer study reveals that 70% of companies surveyed implement hybrid and fully remote work to adapt to unique marketplace needs.

Remote Work and Cybersecurity Risks

While remote work has grown mainly from pandemic business recovery efforts, it has also increased the potential for cybersecurity breaches. A data breach or cyberattack can devastate a business and its employees. This is a pervasive, ongoing threat to data networks. Unfortunately, remote teams are often untrained or unequipped to prevent cyberattacks and recognize suspicious behavior behind them. This is especially true for employees and vendors across the country or worldwide.

Security Risks From Tools and Remote Connections

The risk of a data breach severely changes when employees work virtually. New risks emerge when they use personal equipment such as PCs, routers, and hand-held devices. Devices may infect ransomware and other cyber threats regardless of whether you install antivirus or anti-malware software.

Another significant remote work risk is accessing or sending data with public internet connections when connecting to company systems or storage resources. Third parties can tap into the unsecured connection and confiscate confidential business, consumer, or industry information if the data is not secure.

Remote work requires employees to adopt a broader set of tools, increasing cyberattack opportunities. Remote workers could also unknowingly deploy applications like RDP and VPN clients, creating new potential security vulnerabilities.

The average total ransomware breach cost is $4.62M compared to $4.24M for the average data breach. IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Survey shows that remediation costs have increased by 10%, although data recovery is never guaranteed.

Identifying Hackers and Cybercriminals

Cybersecurity attacks happen every day all over the world. They are not limited to select regions or countries. Hackers and cybercriminals target businesses of all sizes, not only multinational corporations and institutions. APTs or Advanced Persistent Threats are considered the most treacherous attacks.

Hackers and cybercriminals pose different threat levels since they don’t have the same purpose. Cybercriminals subvert data networks with malicious intent. Hackers look for ingenious ways to infiltrate a system, whether the intention is good or bad. But both can create disastrous outcomes.

Compromised data can result in lost revenue, high costs to recover data, and loss of brand reputation. In select industries like disaster management and healthcare, a data breach can even result in loss of life.

Remote Teams Need to be Written Cybersecurity Policies

With the ever-increasing data security risks, businesses need written cybersecurity policies for remote workers. The most important reason to have these policies is to prevent loss before it happens. Vulnerable data could include payroll documents, identification records, and confidential institutional information.

Employers must pay extra attention to policies and expectations regarding securing the technology their remote workforce uses. The COVID-19 pandemic provides many opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit unsecured technology systems, overworked information technology (IT) staff, and panicked employees adjusting to working from home.

“In the course of developing communications to employees, examine existing policies closely, such as confidentiality, information security, business continuity, BYOD,” said Joseph Lazzarotti, an attorney with the firm of Jackson Lewis. “If companies have specific requests, for example, if they don’t want employees working on public Wi-Fi, then that should be stated in the policy.”

What Should Be in a Remote Cybersecurity Policy?

While a remote workforce policy will vary based on the size and type of business, here are some key points it should address:

  1. Whom the remote policy covers, and when it applies
  2. Physical and remote device security
  3. Network connectivity, including VPN access
  4. Standardized hardware and software, including firewalls and antivirus/antimalware programs
  5. Login credentials and data security
  6. Acceptable use of devices and information
  7. Data and network encryption standards
  8. Communication tools such as email, instant messaging, and video conferencing
  9. How to stop a suspected breach or report suspicious behavior
  10. Compliance with policies and safety measures

Keep Cybersecurity Policies Current

Before creating or updating cybersecurity policies, organizations should review current policies for security guidelines about remote work. If none exist, they should establish basic guidelines for remote access to company information systems and employees using personal devices for company business.

Managers should ensure that security guidelines, plans, and policies include remote and onsite teams. Most employees do not work in cybersecurity; some may have never worked virtually. However, companies should review plans to ensure that everyone, regardless of work location, can effectively respond to a data breach or security incident. 

Gregory Abrams, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Chicago, says, “Employers must be ready to adjust quickly as circumstances change,” noting that new Department of Labor guidelines could affect remote work. For legal protection, policies should state that cybersecurity guidelines are subject to change, given the current business climate.

computer protected by cybersecurity software

Secure Communication and Collaboration

For many employees, a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection might not be enough to stay connected with their team and be productive. Creating policies to ensure secure collaboration and communication processes is critical to supporting remote teams since they lack onsite resources. 

Consider what communication tools work best in situations like manager one-on-ones, team meetings, or employee learning and development activities. Outline the communication frequency between employees and their managers in the policy, including securing the communication channels to use.

Security Policies Protect You and Your Business

The flexibility and convenience of working remotely have created new opportunities and increased risk. Every organization needs a comprehensive cybersecurity policy for remote staff with clear risk mitigation instructions. In today’s evolving business landscape, this is a crucial way to protect business data at home, onsite, or on the road, as well as the company’s future.

How Essential Data Corporation Can Help

Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or [email protected] to get started.

By Liz Eastlake