2020 saw the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic throw the whole world into chaos. With lockdown orders issued globally, millions of businesses and organisations scrambled to get their operations and their workforce online. Though most were able to pivot and adapt quite quickly, due to the great advancements in technology over the past decade, it was not without its challenges.
With the rise of remote working, we have also witnessed the rise of cyber-attacks. One survey showed that 46% of global businesses have encountered at least one cybersecurity scare since shifting to a remote working model during the COVID-19 lockdown. And in June, it was reported that online fraud in Ireland had increased by 55% and phishing complaints rose by 45% in the period March 1 to May 31, compared to the same time last year.
So, while most businesses were quick to shift their focus to setting up online operations, many of these same businesses have been slower when it comes to implementing cyber-safe processes for their remote workforce. With this in mind, we wanted to share some IT security tips for those working remotely.
Keep your Devices Secure
Most organisations have a good on-site IT set up where they are able to install powerful security measures to protect company computers from malware, prevent employees from installing risky applications and restrict online access. With an off-site crew, however, this can be a little trickier to control.
Many employees are using personal devices and home networks, with little to no protection. If company data is being shared or stored on these devices, it is imperative that each of these devices is secure. These solutions do not have to cost an arm and a leg nor do they have to be overly complicated. A simple firewall and antivirus software can prevent a good majority of cyber threats by creating a barrier between your device and the internet.
Use Strong Passwords
A Google Survey found that 52% of people reuse the same password across multiple platforms. This, quite likely, will have something to do with why compromised passwords accounted for 81% of hacking related breaches last year.
Setting strong passwords is a crucial part of IT security. Workers should create passwords that are unique for every account and with each consisting of a long string of upper and lower case letters, along with numbers and special characters. Passwords should also be regularly updated to reduce the risk of exposure from potential leaks.
Set up Two-Factor Authentication
Unfortunately, it is not enough to rely solely on strong and unique passwords. Two-factor authentication should also be widely used to strengthen security and protect online accounts and information.
As the name suggests two-factor authentication requires an extra step at the login stage. It might involve receiving an email or text confirmation before being granted access or in some instances fingerprint, voice or face recognition. This will work hand in hand with your password and provide an extra layer of security and reassurance.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a powerful encryption tool that keeps data secure. It provides a secure connection between a device and the internet and prevents hackers from seeing your online activity. This greatly reduces the chances that your personal, financial or other private information from being accessed or stolen.
Most remote workers are using ‘open’ public internet or home Wi-Fi that is not secure and poses a huge threat to company data. Installing a trustworthy VPN eliminates that risk. VPN’s are extremely easy and quick to install on any home device or on mobile so you can take that security with you where you go.
Beware of Phishing Emails and Sites
Phishing is one of the most common and effective ways for cyber criminals to hack into your device and online accounts and steal data. With statistics showing a rise in cyber-attacks, it is more important than ever to be vigilant when it comes to opening emails or clicking on unknown links.
Though we see these types of attacks frequently, they are not too difficult to prevent. With many online tools available to help with email and website filtering, remote workers can also take some basic steps to protect themselves and their data.
When opening an email from an unknown person, check the sender’s email address. Note any spelling errors or suspicious looking domains. In many cases the subject line or the body of the email will give it away as the language or tone of the email will be strange or unfamiliar. Do not click any links within the email unless you are completely sure that it is a trustworthy site.
Backup your Data
Data loss can occur at any time, at any scale and for any reason, such as human error, hardware failure, or a cyber-attack. It might be as simple as deleting a document you were working on all morning or it could be as serious as an entire database wipe out. This can cause severe headaches for employees and businesses, but a simple solution like using a cloud based backup could prevent all of this.
Not only are cloud services convenient and cost effective but it also means that business data is securely stored, managed and always available. For a remote workforce this is vital in order to maintain operations and uninterrupted workflows.
So, while the above outlines some cyber-safe best practices for remote workers to follow in their day to day working and personal lives. For those that are employees and working for a business or organisation as part of a team, the onus really is on the employer to supply the adequate training and resources needed for them to be able to do their job safely.
The knee-jerk reaction may have been to simply get online fast, but now that we are settling into an online world, or at least a hybrid form of on and off-site working, companies need to step up and take responsibility for their cyber operations to protect their workers and their business.