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How to maintain security when employees work remotely - 5 tips

In 2023, 73% of data breaches involved people accidentally or purposefully accessing confidential data. So while advanced security systems can stop many cyber threats, the weakest link in the chain remains human error.

If your company wants to prioritize safety and security, addressing human error should be a big part of your plan. Doing so ensures you minimize your chances of a data breach while maintaining a high level of security when your employees work remotely.

So, let’s talk about what to educate your team on and how to do so so that you can build a security-conscious company.

The danger of human error in cybersecurity

Human error in cybersecurity refers to either a lack of action or unintentional efforts that caused a breach to take place. And this can easily happen in many ways. From failing to install a security update to multiple weak passwords or clicking on an unknown link in an email, human error happens.

However, employees are often the most vulnerable targets for cybercriminals. And data breaches caused by human error cost businesses an average of $3.33 million. So, human error prevention should be a key component of your risk management plan.

But with so many potential risks, what information should you communicate with employees?

Key security information remote employees need to know about

Your business and industry of operation will dictate what specific cybersecurity information your hybrid or remote employees need to know. But here are some general topics that every team member should be educated on:

  • Password management: Encourage your team to use strong passwords and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. Also, implement and mandate the use of multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Identifying suspicious emails and links: Train people to identify suspicious emails and links and caution against downloading attachments from unknown sources or external emails.
  • Protecting sensitive data: If certain team members have access to sensitive data, tell them not to store it on their desktops but instead in encrypted files or folders. And confidential information should not be shared over email.
  • Insider threats: Even if it’s a colleague or another department, discourage employees from sharing their login information with other people.

To make this list even more accurate, analyze your latest data breaches. Observe what triggered them and formulate an education plan to prevent these from happening again.

Armed with the knowledge about what your team needs to know, here are five tips to reduce security risks when employees work remotely.

1. Conduct regular employee training

Educating your staff on security risks and safety is a basic step you can take to protect your company.

However, many organizations will train new employees and never refresh the information or follow up. To keep up with changing technology, all employees should be given routine training.

Trainings can take any form as long as it’s engaging and worthwhile for both the organizer and attendees. For example, chances are your company already has an IT security training program, such as an e-learning course or something similar. And if the engagement rate is high for this, then don’t change your system.

But an alternative is to gamify the process. For instance, you could simulate a situation where someone is trying to steal data and your team of employees need to secure it. Or host a competition for the best cybersecurity presentation to new employees with different categories such as design or public speaking.

After such a training or event, follow up with monthly email tips to keep reminding people to stay aware of security risks and how they can best protect their data.

2. Limit access to sensitive data

Many remote work security risks come from employees innocently copying an entire folder of files, a folder that includes sensitive data that should be locked.

So start by identifying what sensitive data your company has and where is it stored. Then look at who has access to it and why those people do. Because not everyone needs access to sensitive information. To avoid accidental leaks, restrict access to only those who require it.

Implement encryption and privileged access management through role-based access control (assigning permissions based on an employee's role) to protect sensitive data from accidental insider access and external threats.

3. Implement clear hiring and termination procedures

When onboarding new employees, vendors, or contractors, you’ll need to share with them relevant and potentially sensitive information. But, the more people you share data with, the higher the chances of a breach.

So what can you do to prevent this? Conduct background checks on anyone who needs access to confidential information. And limit the number of people, outside of your organization who can access confidential data.

For example, if you start working with a new supplier, not everyone in their organization needs direct access to your data. Limit access to a few key people.

In addition, when offboarding employees, be sure that no one accidentally copies sensitive files onto their personal laptop. How? by having clear procedures in place for terminating access to sensitive data whenever a team member leaves.

4. Regularly update and patch software

Outdated software makes you more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Why? Because hackers love software vulnerabilities and will take advantage of them.

Updating your software keeps malware out and protects against attackers who could take advantage of a weaker system.

And whenever an entire team or country-specific employees need to update a specific software, send out an email kindly asking them to do so. Highlight the consequences of not doing so to motivate them into action.

5. Have a plan for when data gets breached

You can implement all of the above tips, but that doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed never to experience a data breach.

Therefore, create and implement a plan of action that outlines the procedures to follow in case of a cybersecurity or data breach. Your plan should include the following elements:

  • A categorization breach types. For example, data, people, applications, or systems.
  • Identify the cyber threats like ransomware, phishing, and credential theft.
  • The steps various people must take to contain the breach.
  • Time to analyze how the breach occurred.
  • A plan of communication with customers (if needed).

By having a plan in place, you ensure minimal damage or data loss.

Build a security-conscious company culture

Human error is the leading cause of data breaches, so it’s vital to make it a core of your security management. By providing training, implementing access controls, having clear onboarding and offboarding procedures, updating software when needed, and having a plan for the worst-case scenario, your organizations can reduce the risk of remote data breaches and security risks.

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