The corporate world has seen a prevalence in remote working in the past few years. The widespread adoption of cloud technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) has made remote working possible like never before. However, corporate data security is one of the main questions that enterprises need to address to enable a secure remote working atmosphere for their employees. For this, enterprises need to devise plans to provide secure remote access to their employees which can enable workplace flexibility without compromising on data security.
What is Remote Access?
Remote Access is the ability of employees to connect with the IT services or access the organization’s resources such as applications, data, etc. from outside the organization. This enables employees to use their corporate tools and resources and work from anywhere.
Enabling secure remote access to employees breaks the bounds of working from office perimeters and helps employees gain greater workplace flexibility. On the other hand, it also helps organizations gain greater talents from anywhere in the world, and not hire employees restricted to specific office locations.
What are the roadblocks in providing remote access to employees
Remote Access to employees seems like a convenient option as it imparts flexibility of location, leading to improved productivity. It also helps organizations deploy the Bring your own device(BYOD) work model and undertake enterprise mobility with greater efficiency.
However, to reap the maximum benefits of remote access, organizations need to beware of the following challenges that are encountered in the process of enabling remote access to employees.
- Phishing attempts
Phishing attacks are one of the major cyber threats in the digital landscape. Phishing attempts generally involve users receiving emails that claim to be from popular or trusted sources that procure sensitive user information such as log-in credentials, bank details or more.
Some of these fraudulent emails also spread malware or ransomware in the user’s computer making it all the more vulnerable and an easy target for cyber-criminals to hack into.
While such episodes are uncommon in office facilities since on-premise computers are protected with software and policies that restrict such malicious emails. However, when working from diverse locations, beyond office perimeters, sometimes using one’s personal laptop/smartphone on public networks, make employees a soft target for such threats.
- Device loss/theft
When employees step out of their office facilities with devices that hold sensitive corporate data, they are responsible for ensuring no data breach occurs. However, when business information is easily available on handy devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops, employees are free to work from any location they please.
Employee mobility with corporate data on their personal devices especially is of great threat to organizations since they are easily prone to be lost or stolen from outdoor locations and misused.
- Mixing of employee’s personal & work data
With the BYOD trends gaining acceptance around the world, employees use their personal devices to access corporate resources. With enterprise mobility taking pace, remote access is a very common phenomenon on BYO devices.
But the challenge lies in ensuring that employees do not mix their confidential work data with their personal folders. Extra measures have to be taken to classify and restrict the merging of private and corporate information on an employee’s device to reduce the risk of exposure.
- Improper user hygiene
No matter how careful, humans are prone to manual errors. Without proper device and data hygiene, employees risk exposing critical information whether intentionally or not.
Letting your friends and family peek into your work files, leaving the laptop screen open and unattended with corporate files on display, sharing your device password with your family are some of the many ways in which corporate data is prone to leakage.
What are the best practices for securing remote access for employees?
Let’s look at some of the best practices that businesses can adopt to steer clear of the cyber threats that hover over them in a remote work environment;
- Securing Remote Connectivity
The first measure for organizations enabling remote access to their employees is to secure their remote connectivity with your corporate network. When working remotely, employees rely on public networks which may or may not be safe, making them vulnerable to cyber-threats.
Organizations can provide their employees’ safe access to their resources with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN creates a secure and encrypted communication channel through the internet between the user’s computer and the corporate network.
There are Remote Access VPNs that connect devices outside the office perimeters to the corporate network, and there are site-to-site VPNs that are used when the distance between the user and the office is too large for a direct connection.
- Device and Endpoint Security
Realizing the threats and challenges that are encountered in providing remote access to employees, several organizations turn to third-party services such as Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to help create policies to secure their corporate data on employees’ devices and endpoints.
MDM solutions offer capabilities such as personal data privacy which segregates users’ private and corporate data and maintains them in separate classifications. Furthermore, an organization’s IT team can also undertake activities such as remote data wipe to protect corporate information in case of device theft/loss, conditional email access to restrict email access on MDM-unmanaged devices, location tracking and much more.
These solutions help IT admins of organizations to keep a close eye on their device inventory, as well as secure their employees’ devices in bulk, making them ready for remote working.
- Data Encryption
In an event of loss or theft of employees’ devices, organizations can still ensure corporate data protection if their data is encrypted. Even if employees’ work devices fall in the hands of a stranger, the corporate data on them would still be inaccessible with data encryption.
Data encryption secures corporate data in transit by converting it into a ciphertext that needs to be decrypted with an encryption key. Windows BitLocker, macOS FileVault, etc. are examples of built-in data encryption programs.
- Timely Software and OS Updates
One of the routine IT tasks in every organization includes ensuring timely updates of the operating systems (OS) and software on their device fleets. While this may sound like a small and redundant chore, it can be equally harmful if left undone.
Software and OS updates, along with bringing in the latest functionalities are also meant for patching issues, especially the security vulnerabilities that they hold. Delaying OS and software updates may open up a door for cybercriminals to take advantage of the system vulnerabilities and hack into it, either to steal sensitive information or to spread ransomware.
- Implementing a Strong Passcode Policy
The first line of defense to protect corporate data on employees’ devices is to set strong passwords that prevent unauthorized access to the device and the resources that it contains. While this might seem an easy task, many users take their device and app passwords lightly making it convenient for strangers to guess their passwords and access their devices.
- A strong passcode policy set by organizations can go a long way in preventing an unfortunate data loss incident. Passcode policies define the password type and complexity, as well as how often it should ideally be updated to help employees keep security threats at bay.
- Regular Security Audits and Risk Assessments
Managing, monitoring and securing a remote workforce along with their confidential corporate resources is not easy. Hence, organizations must adopt routine strategies to ensure the smooth running of a remote work environment.
- Conducting a periodic assessment of potential vulnerabilities and associated risks is an important way to identify lingering threats and devices strategies to curb them before it’s too late. Regular security audits that focus on an employee’s activities, cloud and on-prem log-ins, permission changes, use of external ports and connections, etc. help IT teams of organizations to create a baseline. This baseline then acts as a standard bar and helps in raising a flag against any abnormalities that are detected in comparison.
- Exercising a Zero-trust Policy
The zero-trust philosophy, fits in perfectly in today’s corporate world that is rapidly mobilizing itself and is surrounded by an increasing number of security threats. The zero-trust policy believes that nothing inside or outside the organization should be directly trusted to connect to their network and resources. Today, cyberattacks threaten not only the processes that run on the internet but even the protected on-prem and offline resources of a business making it extremely crucial for organizations to develop policies to secure their data.
- With the zero-trust policy, users are required to authenticate themselves at every critical step. It is a system management strategy that believes threats exist by default and repeatedly questions the premise that users, devices, and network components for their authenticity.
- Educating your staff
Lastly, the most simple, yet important practice that can help organizations to provide secured remote access to their employees is to educate them about the lingering threats and the consequences of not maintaining device and data hygiene.
System and data vulnerabilities do not arise solely due to device issues or software glitches, many of them are also due to human errors or ignorance. No security policy or tool can be completely efficient. Remote working is a responsibility that employees need to understand and cooperate with.
The more businesses transition towards remote working, the more the corporate data is threatened with increasing cybercrimes. While the world experiences the perks of remote working, organizations need to ensure that they can handle a remote working environment with the right security strategies. Every business has varied security requirements, the above-mentioned remote access best practices are sure to help you devise a secure remote working environment for your employees.