Remote Work Cybersecurity

Remote workers are here to stay. This article will review remote work cybersecurity and how you can be proactive in preventing cyber attacks.


August 31, 2023

Times Have Changed

Most people remember where they were the moment COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and forever changed the workplace landscape. A significant number of organizations shifted from an onsite to a remote workforce. At the same time, IT professionals scrambled to protect companies and employees working remotely.

While some experienced improved productivity, the downside was increased concerns about remote work cybersecurity risks. With increased risks top of mind, you must develop robust security measures for a working environment with remote access.

Why Working Remotely Raises Security Concerns

A lingering effect of the pandemic is that work-from-home and hybrid work models are here to stay. While this may enhance the work/life balance for employees, the rising popularity has driven increased cybersecurity vulnerabilities and attacks.

Now, you must rethink many cyber safety practices, such as protecting trade secrets and sensitive company data. Employees can unknowingly expose your network to threat actors.

For many reasons,  a work-from-home option raises the possibility of scams, a data breach, and other harmful acts. For example, endpoint access by cybercriminals increases because devices connect to your network outside the company’s secure perimeter.

The absence of conventional intrusion detection software or firewalls exposes your company network to cyber attacks. Furthermore, the attack surface increases if remote workers use personal devices or unsecured home networks.

Working from home may also encourage shadow IT, where employees buy unsanctioned technology not approved by your IT security department. Management can appreciate employees showing initiative to complete tasks, but getting the job done may come at a cost.

Protecting the castle requires expanding cybersecurity defenses that work for a home office. The shift toward remote work environments has given cybercriminals new ways to target employees and exploit vulnerabilities.

Common Remote Work Cybersecurity Risks and Best Practices Solutions

There are many cybersecurity risks triggered by having a remote workforce. Below are seven of the most common threats, along with security solutions to keep your company safe.

1. Expanded Attack Surface

More remote employees equal more networking, software, and endpoint security due to an expanded attack surface. This is defined as all possible attack vectors, or possible points, where unauthorized users gain access to network systems.

Some methods include:

• Viruses
• Web links
• Email attachments
• Instant messages

After exploiting system vulnerabilities, the next step is to extract sensitive information. An example of this is financially motivated attacks to steal money or personally identifiable information.

Monitoring your attack surface requires constant vigilance as your company may embrace new technologies and expand its digital footprint. Doing so gives you the advantage of quickly identifying and blocking cyber threats before they become full-blown attacks.

An excellent way to mitigate security threats in a remote environment is to reduce the attack surface. Generally, this may involve removing unnecessary access points and securing the vulnerabilities of attack vectors.

One essential method is managing user permissions and remote employee access. In some cases, this may require adjusting or revoking access levels. Another method is to conduct regular reviews of assets to clear out outdated or expired data and remove vulnerable access points.

2. Phishing Attacks

One of the most pervasive and persistent cyber threats is phishing attacks. All it takes is one click by an unsuspecting remote worker on an email disguised as legitimate communication. Cybercriminals use phishing schemes to trick individuals into providing sensitive information or login credentials.

A remedy to phishing is for employees to secure home networks when accessing company information and systems. Make sure they have up-to-date cybersecurity protections such as a virtual private network (VPN) and anti-virus software.

Educate employees on remaining vigilant for common phishing attempts such as unusual email addresses and suspicious:

• Links
• Requests
• Emails

Additionally, your security team should protect the network and company data from phishing gangs. These criminals use clever social engineering tactics on employees through personal devices or private messaging apps.

Another anti-virus solution for remote workers is endpoint detection and response for home users. This method protects your network against external threats.

3. Vulnerable Corporate Network

Trust but verify should be the common practice for organizations to ensure home wifi and networks are not vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Hackers look for ways to exploit the networking equipment that employees use at home.

Develop access controls to manage which employees are authorized to access the corporate network. Verification measures based on assigned access levels are crucial for all users. Implementing this strategy can help your company avoid data breaches and other attacks.

If you adopt a “bring your own device” policy, this will add to security issues when granting remote access. Minimize risks by requiring employees to always use a VPN to connect to the corporate network.

A first-line defense to securing your corporate network is username and password credentials. Using reliable authentication can prevent hackers from stealing passwords and compromising your entire network from one personal device.

Consider adding multi-factor authentication tools such as biometric verification or a one-time passcode to your system.

4. Weak Employee Passwords

Protecting passwords is futile if employees use weak passwords. Sequential or personally-identifiable passwords might be easier for employees to remember. However, those same passwords make a bad actor’s job easier as well.

Often neglected, stronger passwords are one of the most effective ways for employees to protect themselves against a cyber attack.

Cybercriminals use a variety of tactics to crack employee passwords. For instance, hackers will repeat a password used to access one account on other accounts. If employees use the same password across business and personal accounts, criminals will also have access after cracking one password.

In addition to multi-factor authentication, remote employees should use a password manager. With a password manager, employees will not need to repeat or remember multiple passwords. Their work-related accounts are protected from cyber thieves.

5. Unsecured Home Networks

Employees who work remotely may use public wifi or other unsecured networks to get their work done. In some cases, home networks are also vulnerable to malicious actors spying on these connections to harvest confidential data.

An example is when an employee sends information in an unencrypted form. Cybercriminals can intercept and steal data. Therefore, employees should always use a VPN connection when accessing an unknown wifi network.

With a VPN connection, any data transmission through the internet is routed from your company’s private network. This keeps company data secure from any bad actor who tries to intercept the information. Any attempt will fail because they cannot read encrypted information.

Also, ensuring your employees use updated routers and VPNs should be a priority for the IT department. Improving security with enhanced endpoint measures allows your security team to view the details of all endpoints.

Deploying an endpoint detection and response (EDR) security solution prevents data leakage. This solution also enables a quick response to potential threats.

6. Sharing Unencrypted Files

Employees share sensitive files throughout their workday. Whether client accounts or corporate trade secrets, your company must ensure this information is protected from online hackers. This involves encryption for stored and transmitted data.

Sensitive data in the hands of cybercriminals can lead to ransomware attacks, identity theft, and more.

Endpoint security also works for managing how files are handled. This measure verifies protections while enforcing security policies to define how employees should use remote devices within the company system and network.

These devices may include:

• Desktops
• Mobile devices
• IoT devices

This solution also ensures that firewall and anti-virus software are configured properly. It is important to make sure no malicious processes are running, and system and software patches are applied in a timely manner.

7. Social Engineering Attacks

Employees use flawed reasoning of trust when they fall victim to a social engineering attack. This is the type of environment attackers look to capitalize on to carry out their nefarious deeds. The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic unmasked attempts to impersonate legitimate organizations.

For example, criminals targeted individuals and healthcare workers with fake information updates, mask discounts, and accelerated access to vaccines. Political movements and unemployed workers were also susceptible to these scams.

Now that the global pandemic has passed, hackers continue to use disruption to launch attacks. Some use baiting by taking advantage of a person’s curiosity or greed to transmit malware to their device. An employee may receive a USB that spreads malware when inserted into a connected device.

Some security best practices to protect your company and employees from social engineering attacks include:

• Using a two-factor or multi-factor authentication for additional layers of security
• Promptly changing passwords if an employee suspects they gave away password information to a scammer
• Setting high spam filters for the email program

Create a Remote Work Security Policy

Employing remote workers is convenient but also risky and challenging. However, organizations should adopt robust security policies to ensure onsite and remote employees follow the same processes and standards. Doing so is as important as following security best practices.

To protect the corporate network and sensitive data, all employees must follow the same protocols for thwarting cyber threats. This begins with creating a security policy that aligns with your company to reduce issues that may arise.

Write a strategy that gives clear practices and guidelines for all employees. Some critical points to emphasize include:

Device Security: The first step to securing at-home work environments is controlling the devices employees can use. Smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktops, and other devices that store data or connect to the internet. Make sure your security policy specifies approved devices and how each should be updated, encrypted, and configured. Also, provide anti-virus software, VPNs, firewalls, and any other tools in your arsenal to prevent malware and unauthorized access by hackers.
User Security: Security teams must include the human factor in the equation of remote work security. Your remote workers may encounter a variety of threats, such as ransomware, phishing, and social engineering. The user security element should detail what is expected of employees if they encounter an incident. Additionally, train employees in recognizing and avoiding scams.
Data Security: Company data handled by remote workers is the most vulnerable and valuable asset. Make sure the policy outlines the difference between regulated, confidential and sensitive data. Include guidelines for how the data should be stored and how employees should transfer, share or access the data. Educate remote employees on using strong passwords and setting up multi-factor authentication.
Network Security: Define acceptable networks for remote employees to connect to the company network. This includes a wireless router or personal hotspot. Advise employees to avoid connecting to unsecured wifi networks and to change router passwords regularly.
Compliance Security: Depending on your industry, your company may need to follow regulations, standards, and laws regarding sensitive data privacy and protection. For example, the healthcare industry must follow HIPAA rules. Specify in your security policy how to document and demonstrate compliance. Make sure employees are aware of the penalties and consequences of noncompliance.
Review Security: Hackers are creating more inventive ways to break through certain information security measures. Therefore, it is essential to have an evolving and dynamic security policy that you and your security team review and update as necessary. Specify who on the team is responsible for auditing, evaluating, and revising the remote work security policy. Ask for feedback from remote employees to make improvements and address any gaps.

Help remote employees feel like they are an important part of your security team. Understanding the connection of how a security breach will affect them can lead to improvements in their behavior.

Employees should know the difference safe cybersecurity practices make in their work life. When confronted with suspicious emails or websites, they are alerted to take the right actions to avoid a security breach.

How Meriplex Helps To Keep Remote Work Environments Secure

As a trusted partner, Meriplex uses a range of industry-leading security solutions to help organizations secure remote workforce environments. Cybersecurity risks negatively affect the financial stability, legal standing, and reputation of businesses.

Embracing remote working options can be good for you and your employees. Taking the necessary steps to prevent cyber attacks is essential and requires investing in appropriate cybersecurity measures.

Contact us today to learn more about how our remote work cybersecurity solutions protect your company.