Remote work cybersecurity: Cover the basics to stay ahead

Viesturs Abelis 1.07.2024

Keeping up with remote work cybersecurity guidelines is a must in all organizations as findings by the IMF show that cyberattacks have more than doubled since the pandemic.

Remote employee management comes with a number of challenges, and the addition of increased cybersecurity threats can make it overwhelming to stay on top of everything. 

To help you mitigate the cybersecurity risks of working from home, we’ve listed the main factors you need to consider, and mixed them with remote work cybersecurity best practices.

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The unique hybrid and remote work cybersecurity challenges

Both on-site and remote work cybersecurity have to be at the top of every manager’s agenda as cyber attacks are on the rise. For example, 2023 saw a 72% increase in data breaches compared to 2021, which held the previous all-time record. Hybrid and remote work environments are under increased risk of cyber attacks due to these unique challenges:

  • Increased number of attack entry points. While employees in the office connect to a single, secure corporate network, remote employees work from locations with varied network security and stability. With every new location, network and device used, the number of potential entry points for cyberattacks increases, making ensuring ​​cybersecurity for remote work harder.

  • Home network vulnerabilities. Home networks typically lack the robust security measures that exist in corporate environments. Unsecured routers, weak passwords, and outdated firmware can all make home networks an easier target for hackers. 

  • Phishing and social engineering. Remote workers are more susceptible to phishing attacks and social engineering due to the lack of direct supervision. This can make it harder for employees to verify the authenticity of emails, messages, and links, leading to a higher risk of falling for scams. 

  • Difficulty monitoring remote workers. It’s easier to supervise employees at the office than in a remote work setting, even if you’re using employee monitoring tools like DeskTime. Being in the same physical space allows for quicker interventions in case an employee needs guidance in complying with cybersecurity policies.

  • Presence of family and strangers in the remote workspace. Working from home increases the risk of company devices being accessed by young children, other family members, and even visitors. And if the employee chooses to work in a public space or a co-working office, there are even more risks to consider, like the presence of strangers and unprotected Wi-Fi networks.

Strategies to boost cybersecurity in remote and hybrid work

So how can managers mitigate these cybersecurity risks in remote and hybrid work? It may intuitively seem that the answer to stronger cybersecurity lies in high-tech solutions, but data shows that missing the basics contributes to the vast majority of cyberattacks. According to the annual Data Breach Investigations Report of 2024, human error still makes up the overwhelming majority of cybersecurity incidents, contributing to a whopping 68% of total breaches.

The good news is – this can be improved immediately, with relatively low investments. The following guidelines will give you a solid basis for strengthening remote work cybersecurity in your team.

Up the password game to cut the top remote work cybersecurity risk

If we had to narrow down this article to a single remote work cyber security tip, it would be just this: make your employees strengthen and secure their passwords! Here’s why. 

The 2024 DBIR found that the use of stolen credentials (like passwords) is the number one entry point during breaches, and they account for 77% of basic web application attacks. It’s also estimated that the most common passwords are “123456”, followed by “admin”, and “12345678”. Passwords like these and even more sophisticated ones can be hacked in under a minute, while longer ones complying using best practices can take up to 34’000 years. So, there’s no doubt that strengthening your passwords is a must-have step in preventing the most prevalent remote work cybersecurity risk.

Here’s what to remind your staff to make sure their passwords are actually doing the job they’re meant to do:

  • Create strong passwords. Use at least 12 characters with different characters (uppercase, lowercase, number, and symbol), do not use consequential numbers (like 4567), do not use your pet’s name or your birth date.

  • Change passwords every three months and get your colleagues to follow suit.

  • Do not reuse passwords for multiple sites. Once a hacker cracks it, they get access to everything that’s locked under the same password.

  • Use trusted password managers. According to a study, those who don’t use password managers are three times more likely to be affected by identity theft.

Teach your staff to recognize and escape phishing and social engineering

Phishing is one of the most prevalent remote work cybersecurity risks. A recent report from Verizon states that phishing contributes to 36% of data breaches, with other sources citing numbers as high as 80%, so it’s vital to learn how to recognize them. 

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack where someone tries to steal important information like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or bank account details. Then, they pretend to be a trustworthy source and send a tempting request to trick the victim, much like a fisherman uses bait to catch a fish.

Share this with your team so they can avoid taking the bait and protect themselves – and the company – from phishing attempts:

  • Don’t open emails, links, and attachments from unknown or suspicious sources.

  • Avoid sending sensitive information over email or text.

  • Use multi-factor authentication. This adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to access your accounts even if they steal passwords.

Additionally, here’s what managers can do:

  • Test employees’ awareness by conducting simulated phishing attacks and providing feedback on their responses.

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Develop and enforce remote work cybersecurity policies

The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” truly applies in both on-site and remote work cybersecurity matters. To protect your organization from cyber attacks, everyone must understand the importance of cybersecurity and know what steps to take.

Here are some pointers for creating clear and accessible remote and hybrid work cybersecurity policies to get everyone on board:

  • Outline acceptable use of devices and sites.

  • Emphasize the importance of keeping household members away from work devices.

  • Highlight the importance of strong passwords and describe how to create them.

  • Describe data handling procedures.

  • Develop a plan for responding to cybersecurity incidents and include steps for containment, investigation, and communication.

  • Make the policies easy to access and comprehend, and update them regularly.

  • Conduct regular training sessions on internal remote work cybersecurity policies.

Become a remote work cybersecurity leader

Juggling both remote work and cybersecurity issues on top of day-to-day tasks can be overwhelming for managers. However, knowing that most cyber attacks happen because of human error is also empowering, as the solution lies in people. 

So, prioritizing employee training and leadership in cybersecurity procedures is crucial to protect your company from damaging cyber attacks. Here’s how you can set the course for your team and organization:

  • Prioritize remote work cybersecurity by allocating resources and attention to cybersecurity initiatives. For example, invest in secure password managers and cybersecurity trainings.

  • Foster a security-first culture by talking about cybersecurity during meetings.

  • Encourage employees to follow policies and report any suspicious activities.

  • Keep up with the latest cybersecurity trends to make informed decisions.

Stay ahead of remote work cybersecurity risks

As remote and hybrid work models become more common, staying alert and proactive about remote work cybersecurity and applying the right safeguarding strategies is essential. We’ve outlined impactful yet simple remote work cybersecurity tips on how to avoid the most common causes for cyberattacks – password weakness and human error. 

Investing your time and effort in taking care of your remote work cybersecurity basics can go a long way. Apply these strategies to help your organization stay strong against cyber threats and keep your remote and hybrid teams working safely and efficiently.

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