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Ensuring the Security of Your Remote Workforce

The world of work continues to change and transition. Nearly all knowledge workers want a flexible schedule. Those flexible schedules often lead to flexible locations. Fewer workers are spending all of their time in the office than in previous years. Only about 4.1% of the U.S. workforce telecommuted 50% of the time pre-pandemic. Demand has only grown since then. Gartner expected remote workers to represent about 32% of all employees by 2021, with 51% of global knowledge workers. And, they weren’t far off. 

With the growing need for a distributed workforce and the demand for flexibility from current employees and candidates, there is also an increased need for cybersecurity measures. The increase of employees working remotely means you are no longer managing a single network at your office location, but 20-100 different networks across your distributed workforce. 

The IT security risks your company faces have shifted. Though the threats are often the same, the challenges when securing a distributed workforce are not. The shift towards a remote workforce has created an opportunity for cyber attackers leading to a rise in data breaches

Each new network and Internet of Things (IoT) enabled device is another opportunity for attackers to infiltrate your systems and gain access to your data. “Bad actors” are very aware of the added risk and are jumping at the opportunity. While eliminating remote work seems like the simplest solution, the demand from your current and potential talent has made that an impossibility. 

You need to take steps to ensure the security of your networks, something that becomes more important and more complex when employing a distributed workforce. 

The Cost of a Security Breach

Threats are on the rise. Bad actors are taking advantage of remote workers leading to an 11% increase in Phishing attacks from 2020 to 2021 according to Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report. Ransomware attacks rose 6% year-over-year—with an attack estimated to occur every 11 seconds—and Misrepresentation increasing 15x. Those are concerning numbers. 

What’s more concerning is that the average cost of a breach rose 10% in 2021 to $5.04 million, with an average $4.62 million for Ransomware attacks. Breaches where remote work was a factor in causing the breach, cost $1.07 million more on average. These aren’t problems that can be solved overnight. In fact, data breaches often go unnoticed for an extended period of time. It took an average of 287 days to identify and contain a data breach in 2021. 

The threats are no longer simply against your customer’s data. Attacks on operational technology (OT) are also on the rise with bad actors locking organizations out of their own systems and causing costly halts to their production. 

You need to take steps to protect your internet of things (IoT) enabled devices. How? Verizon found that 85% of breaches had a human element. So, the best place to start is with your people. 

Security Challenges for a Distributed Workforce

There are many challenges when working with a distributed workforce from remote collaboration and communication difficulties to payroll tax compliance. Remote workforce management now includes an element of Cybersecurity. 

What makes the human element such a risk? Remote workers are more likely to use personal devices to sign into work networks, click on questionable emails, and engage in risky behavior. This opens up the network for attack through those connections. 

Unfortunately, the talent shortage has also impacted the IT and cybersecurity industry leaving many organizations short-staffed in departments that can impact the overall security of your organization. The lack of security training for employees also leads to additional security challenges. 

With a distributed workforce, you have the additional challenge of maintaining compliance with varying data protection laws. You and all of your employees and contingent labor will have to comply with the United States Can-Spam law and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Steps to Ensure Security for A Remote Workforce

With a distributed workforce spread across the nation, or the world, it is time to start looking at your security measures differently. Your remote workforce management plan needs to include cybersecurity. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help ensure the security of your remote or distributed team. 

Security Protocol Updates for Distributed Workforce

First and foremost, you will need to update your security protocols to include items that directly relate to remote workforce management. That includes:

  • Connectivity protocols. Your security protocols need to include connectivity protocols. Where should employees connect to the network and where should they avoid? Generally speaking, you want to avoid unsecured networks. 
  • Password security. If a password is easy to guess or decipher, then it threatens the security of your network. Consider enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA). 
  • Device policies. While it may be cheaper and less complicated to implement a “bring-your-own-device” policy, it can actually negatively impact security. Personal devices will be used for more than work items and can put the network at risk. 
  • Secure access. Ensure that your remote workforce can access the network securely. There are several options including Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA). 
  • Data security. There should be multiple security measures in place. Your network has different layers and breaches can come from any of them. Simply protecting passwords isn’t enough. You also need to ensure the safety of your data and OT. Consider cloud-level security and encryption. 

Educate Your Employees (and Contractors)

Security protocols are only the first step. Once you have determined your security protocols and begin implementing them, it is time to turn your attention to the human element. Without proper education, your distributed workforce will continue to engage in risky behavior that poses a security risk for your organization. 

You should be educating your employees and contractors—anyone who accesses your network regularly—about security protocols and measures. And, not just once. Ensure consistent security compliance by re-educating your remote workforce regularly. 

You want to educate your remote workforce on:

  • Proper protocols
  • Types of attacks
    • Phishing attacks—particularly the complexities of spearphishing attacks
  • Problems that can arise when working in shared spaces
    • The dangers of unsecured hotspots/networks
    • Eavesdropping

Cybersecurity is just one of the many things to consider when hiring remotely. Compliance is another complex consideration. Ensure the security of your business when you hire talent compliantly. Contact People2.0 today to learn more. 

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