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COVID-19 and the shift of working environment

Remote working security has been an area of concern since the onset of COVID 19. Way before the COVID 19 pandemic began, the thought of remote working culture was hardly acceptable in organizations. The long-term remote-work culture was never part of the organization’s or the employees’ plans. The eruption of the pandemic has brought in the very change of working patterns to a completely remote basis. The shift has induced organizations to develop an environment for supporting remote workers for the long haul and hence the requirement for remote working security has skyrocketed.

While the pandemic continues its never-ending run, organizations have decided to keep the remote culture sticking to the long-term process. But, while giving a far call, it is their prime responsibility to ensure a safe working environment by creating standard operating procedures for remote working security. The vital concerns here are securing the network, creating required use policies, device protection, and adhering to cyber security requisites.

Here is where the responsibility shakes. While large-scale organizations could adapt to the requirements for remote working security, SMBs are far from the expected standard. A statistical fact is that around 40 % of the SMBs think their current economy would keep them from investing additionally in cyber security practices. Now let us traverse the situation of SMBs and how the shift affected them in the long run.

How did the shift affect Remote Working security of SMBs?

As we pointed earlier, large-scale companies were able to cope with the situation with resource sufficiency. It was easy for them to build a secure home workplace for their remote workers. But, in the case of SMBs, these companies were less prepared for the shift at the initial stages. Employees were required to use personal devices as a part of the cost-cut down processes and budget fall. Even after the two waves of the pandemic, SMBs get tied to the same irregular pathway.

Cyber incidents have not slowed down with time. In fact, it has been a perfect chew for them when remote workers rely on less protected devices. Security incidents marked a 23% hike than previous years because of this. With all the alarming facts upfront, security is still not considered significant enough by SMBs. They are continuously involved in cutting down IT personnel and reallocating budgets to cover other business losses. All these have made them sink in the vulnerable river of breaches and security incidents.

Remote Working Security

As the covid pandemic shows no sign of pause, there are few ways by which organizations could secure their network. Your network could be at risk anytime. Some of the common attacks are spoofing, email compromises, and phishing which has doubled during these days. Besides work processes, personal device usage can also be susceptible to risky online behaviours and malicious activities. Protecting the network around the remote environment has become a compelling requirement to organizations beyond scope and domain. Here are some of the best practices for organizations towards securing the same.

    1. Review your risk factors

      Risk factors are always arbitrary, so are remote working security risks. Those strategies which worked well for your organization earlier might not be effective in remote working standards and culture. Enterprises should perform risk assessments periodically to develop a new set of standard procedures to enhance remote working security. Here are some of the key things to consider while reviewing risk factors associated with organizations’ network security.

      •     Reviewing if the workers are involved in using official devices for non-official purposes.
      •     Reviewing access rights of workers, limiting the scope.
      •     Inspecting weak password usage and unsafe endpoints
      •     Ensuring complete security for the usage of personal devices.
      •     Checking if the devices get shared with unauthorized users.
      •     Inspecting outdated software usage, updates, and installations.
    2. Revise cyber security training

      What is the biggest threat to organizations’ network security? Indeed, the employees who use the network. And here is where remote working security training and awareness campaigns matter the most. Employees may feel a bit relaxed and less concerned about security issues while working in remote workplaces. Revising your enterprise cyber security training and matching the indications of remote-work culture could be helpful to address the concerns. When breaches and security incidents are on the climb, these security training should hit the priority list of enterprises. Additionally, mock tests help to inspect employee responses against security incidents and to improve the same.

    3. Create/amend acceptable use policies

      Acceptable usage policies are the complete set of rules and regulations applied by the network controller or administrator. Old is gold, but it is of less help considering the enhanced threat landscape. Usage policies should be created or amended in line with the requirements of the remote workplace. Basic updations must be included, such as access rights to the network and other security considerations. Effective use of acceptable usage policies gives the right direction to employees, restricts the usage of networks/website/systems. It can help enterprises set guidelines for the appropriate functions. Finally, organizations can keep a signed copy of AUP in the employee file, ensuring strict implementation.

    4. Solidify password security

      Whatever you do to ensure network security in remote workplaces, a weak password is all enough to drain your resilience. Password security is one big deal when trying to defend against cyber threats. A long password speaks gold as they are harder to break. A good password policy should adhere to a minimum of eight characters with a combination of strings and numerals. On the other hand, system passwords can be long enough, extending from 12 to 50 characters. Never allow password hints and change it every 90-180 days. Another significant thing to avoid is using regular password strings and personal details. Furthermore, add authentication details to the logins and teach employees about password compromises and security.

    5. Install firewalls and device security

      Device security is keen, and firewalls are the shielding blocks for your network. Installing firewalls is not the ultimate protection, but it is the most initial and first-line defense for your network. There may be an infinite number of devices holding to your network based on capability. Therefore, protecting every single unit might not be possible in a remote culture. But by building firewall protection, you could deny the entrance of malicious or unnecessary traffic towards your network. The firewall filter system can be a proficient security defense in a remote environment. It doesn’t matter which firewalls you opt for, but it requires efficient security technology management to make sure it is configured securely and timely updates are applied.

    6. Backup data

      It is one of the best practices to follow for avoiding data loss or failure. Remember that it is the shared responsibility of organizations and employees to deploy the process. Remote-working culture has recorded an upsurge of data loss, and the main factor contributing to the cause is human errors. Workers accessing data via the cloud also has exposed the situation. Data is one vital thing to protect in a working-remote environment. Proper backup policies and storage solutions are always a countermeasure to unexpected deleting or loss of files. Also, try to route your backup data and find where it gets stored. It can be helpful to respond to immediate primary data failures or corruptions.

    7. Enable access limitations

      Protection of networks has a huge connection to access rights. Not every employee requires access to all applications and files. Organizations need to define the scope of access for all employees working remotely. It includes assigning roles and responsibilities and matching them with files and apps needed to perform various job roles. The prime idea behind implementing access restrictions to a network is that if a hacker can compromise a user account, it should cease within the scope. Hackers should never get a pathway to extend their expertise beyond that scope. It is a defense measure to restrain risks and impacts connected to it.

    8. Multi-factor authentication for remote working security

      It is the most effective process that requires multiple identities to authenticate a user and approve access to the network. The very process tests your entrance to two or more types before granting permission to enter the network. In other words, MFA delivers reliable confidence to the network that an authorized user is who they say they are. Even though attackers can get hold of your password, the second piece of evidence stops the attacker from gaining access. In this way, MFA can set organizational networks to be risk-free. Indeed, it is a layered defense mechanism through authentication rules, restricting unauthorized intrusions.

    9. Encourage employees to report unusual activities

      A vital move for remote working security! Organizations need to develop a culture by encouraging employees to report on any unusual activities. Even though the remote-working environment promises a flexible working model, mistakes and accidents can be a part of the process. Employees can click a suspicious link accidentally, open an infected file, and may even fall for phishing attacks. In all these cases and beyond the scope, early reporting of such incidents is significant. It enables the organization’s security team to respond to the incidents more quickly and reduce the impacts to a minimum.

    Remote Working Security tips for employers

    Security of networks is a shared responsibility. Here is a work from home security checklist that organizations could respond to inspect if everything is well and upright.

    • Are you following a documented security policy for remote workers?
    • Are you having a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy?
    • Is there a cyber security awareness program for remote workers?
    • Do your employees use an updated VPN facility?
    • Is there a centralized storage solution for your data?
    • Is there a backup policy associated with the data?
    • Are your employees using approved anti-virus software?
    • Are you promoting employees to use secure passwords?
    • Is your organization considering the usage of a Password Manager?
    • Is MFA implemented to validate credentials for network access?
    • Is there an appropriate access control mechanism?
    • Does your organization use encryption techniques?
    • Do you advise your staff to use corporate emails for information sharing?

    Living in the continuous threat landscape, network security in remote locations has been a hot topic in the cyber-domain. With the odd time of the pandemic, more and more companies are sticking to the work-from-home culture. Security breaches and incidents are rising, and cyber security services are becoming an inevitable option than ever before.

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