Cybersecurity Mistakes Your Remote Workforce is Making

Many workers are now remote, either entirely or on a hybrid basis; it's necessary to resolve bad cybersecurity habits and practices. It's the sure-fire way to prevent leaving your company vulnerable to cyber-related crises.

David Lukić
David Lukić
Information privacy, security & compliance consultant
Published:
September 27, 2021

The email security company, Tessian, released a survey that showed that 56 percent of IT leaders believe employees have destructive cybersecurity behaviors working from home. Sixty-nine percent of the leaders agree that ransomware attacks are a significantly more significant concern in the hybrid workplace.

The report further highlights that more than half (54 percent) of staff will introduce infected devices and malware into the work environment. Forty percent of employees corroborate this assertion, with 40 percent saying they plan to use personal machines at work.

One can argue that remote working has become mainstream, all thanks to the coronavirus. Key questions surrounding remote collaboration and a shortage of adequate technology have been resolved, but security concerns remain.

A remote workforce presents unique cybersecurity challenges. Since employees are primarily responsible for 95 percent of security breaches, it is imperative to explore how remote workers may be opening up your organization to external attacks.

Many workers are now remote, either entirely or on a hybrid basis; it's necessary to resolve bad cybersecurity habits and practices. It's the sure-fire way to prevent leaving your company vulnerable to cyber-related crises.

Why Remote Workforce is an Easy Targets for Hackers

Employees are not as less likely to report cybersecurity mistakes, and hackers like to play on this. Remote work essentially separates isolation. A remote worker is no different from a lone sheep. Because they're away from the herd, the wolf (hacker) is more brazen in its attacks. It's challenging to replicate the general office environment at home, raising the probability of cybersecurity mistakes.

Email is an integral part of the solutions companies adopt for employee communication, considering the growing utility of online communication. Working remotely combined with stress keeps employees prone to make mistakes that compromise email security to a higher degree than in an office environment. One could wonder why hackers seem to be interested in exploiting someone working remotely, but it makes sense when we apply a bit of lateral thinking.

Most Common Cybersecurity Mistakes Remote Workers Make

Appropriate remote worker education begins with arousing awareness of the typical remote worker's mistakes in doing their job.

1. Switching between personal and work devices

When working from home and you can switch between multiple systems to get stuff done, why not. Wrong! There's a deceptively thin line between work and personal life when working remotely. It’s nearly impossible not to lapse into bad habits, especially using personal devices for office work and vice versa.

IBM surveyed remote workers and found that over 50 percent use a personal device to do their work. It is convenient, after all. However, it's crucial to note that a personal device is more accessible to compromise than a "hardened" work device. For instance, few personal computers are running enterprise-grade security solutions. Under such circumstances, the remote worker will inevitably install malicious scripts or software without being aware.

Employers can make up-to-date technology available to employees to mitigate this risk. However, there are other options, such as cloud-based communication, collaboration, and storage tools to ensure business data and information protection.

For personal devices, companies can even provide data loss prevention (DLP) tools.

2. Facilitating phishing attempts

Social engineering attacks are on the rise, and the work-from-home culture is as enticing as dangerous. Phishing attacks usually follow hard on the heels of email breaches. Bad email practices can put your company's data at risk because, given what has happened to the most secure companies in the world, breaches will eventually occur. However, it's notable that remote worker carelessness can push the boundaries on how effective phishing attacks are.

Typical social engineering attacks have the following characteristics:

They communicate "urgency".

Standard business communication does not encourage "strong-arm" tactics. If a message makes a remote employee feel rushed or pushes them to make a mistake, it might well be the groundwork for a phishing attack.

They ignore valid security policies.

All workers – remote or not – must ignore messages encouraging them to disregard security policies and procedures.

They are impossible. Any email messages that sound too good to be accurate are most likely so. Many advertise cures and impossible solutions for your company, making a case for continuous education of the remote worker.

3. Not installing vital security updates

Security and other software companies are constantly pushing out patches and upgrades in response to exploitable vulnerabilities. But as long as no one from the IT department is watching staff like a hawk, it's very likely for a remote worker to skip installing updates, even if it only takes a few moments. Twenty percent of remote workers are guilty of this regarding tools that facilitate working remotely.

Software updates are critical, and it's essential to educate remote employees accordingly. It's also necessary to have a backup plan for employees falling foul of this recommendation. Use tools that ensure users update their devices regularly.

However, once workers understand why updates matter and own the responsibility of installing them regularly [even on their mobile phones], it’ll be a safer and more secure environment at your company.

4. Not using multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Strong password policies are a vital part of solid cybersecurity defense. Passwords are usually not enough to battle bad actors; therefore, it's best to make them the strongest you can.

Multi-factor authentication or MFA is one way to minimize the risk of password compromise. It involves using multiple methods to verify identity before login can be successful. It preserves the integrity of critical business systems. So, if a supposed employee attempts a login, that attempt will elicit an approval request on their mobile phone. Modern MFA options include biometrics and lesser-known options of identification.

For business systems, continuous user authentication per cycle is a reliable safeguard, especially when the remote employee does nothing on their machine for some time.

An employee might receive an approval request or observe other suspicious activity even though they haven’t logged into their account. They should promptly communicate it to your IT team for further investigation; it could be your only opportunity to stop the impact of potential hackers.

How to Boost Your Security

There are many ways to improve security in a remote work arrangement.

1. Use antivirus software

Security tools, such as antivirus software and firewalls, are an excellent first line of defense. With a managed services option, monitoring networks around the clock makes it easier to uncover breach attempts, including the most recent virus strains.

Discovering a breach allows your provider to block the breach and offer robust reporting on activities happening on your company's websites and portals. A managed service provider can automatically serve your software patches, updates, and versions as they become available.

2. Use Virtual Private Networks (VPN)

Besides using managed services, you can use a VPN to secure access to your network. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) makes it possible for remote employees to increase the security of financial transactions, personal data, transmitted data, and web sessions, regardless of geographical location. Recent VPN products don’t require any software downloads to the employee’s machine. They are also flexible and allow the addition of licenses and users as necessary.

3. Promote secure sign-in options

Remote workers should use multi-factor authentication for all email accounts. It dramatically minimizes email breaches. They should also apply it anywhere it is supported.

Conclusion

All kinds of employees – remote or not – are critical in the security equation of every organization. They are the sentinel's data and systems of essential; however, scare tactics and expecting them to become overnight security experts won't work. IT leaders should promote a remote working culture that puts the people in a position to be secure and productive. The first step is to understand and communicate lasting behavioral change that makes the new work. With plenty of financial and reputational currency at stake, corporate cybersecurity needs to evolve to accommodate remote working.

Written by
David Lukić
Information privacy, security & compliance consultant

David Lukić is an information privacy, security and compliance consultant at IDstrong.com. The passion to make cyber security accessible and interesting has led David to share all the knowledge he has.

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