However, because employees connect over the internet, remote access is not without risk. Unless the appropriate precautions are taken, cyber criminals, competitors, and other interested parties can spy on company information or piggy-back on connections to infiltrate corporate servers. This was made painfully clear by the dramatic rise in cyberattacks during the Covid-19 pandemic, when many businesses were left scrambling to implement remote working protocols.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most important safety features necessary to minimize the risks of remote access for your business.
1. Update Software, Frequently and Regularly
This is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risks associated with remote access.
Cyber criminals and software developers are locked in a never-ending armswar, as the former uncover new exploits and the latter patch them as quickly as possible. In fact, unpatched software is one of the most common vulnerabilities exploited by cyber criminals targeting businesses.
It’s thus imperative that all devices, both those belonging to a company as well as personal devices used to access company systems or information, are fully updated. This will help ensure your business and its employees are properly protected.
While companies that can afford to provide devices to employees can manage this fairly easily with silent, remote installation and deployment, those relying on bring your own device (BYOD) strategies will need to take a more active role in ensuring off-site software is being regularly updated.
2. Connect Through a VPN
Connecting through a VPN is one of the best ways to ensure company information is kept private as it passes from your servers to an employee’s device. VPNs increase security when connecting from public or shared WiFi, a boon for remote workers who travel often or make use of coworking spaces.
At the very least, employees should be connecting over a commercial VPN, like ExpressVPN, CyberGhost or SurfShark.
However, this is somewhat of a half-measure. Setting up a private VPN is a more effective way of ensuring your company’s data stays secure. A competent IT team should be up to the task, but using a VPN as a Service (VPNaaS) provider is also a cost-effective solution.
Such providers have the benefit of expertise, experience, and high-end infrastructure. A private service like NordVPN Teams can provide industry-leading VPN security with easy scalability and plenty of administrative features for managing users.
3. Regularly Back Up Your Data Using a 3-2-1 Protocol or a Service
Data loss is a crippling disaster to befall any business. One of the most insidious and unfortunately common causes of data loss are ransomware attacks. These increasingly popular cyber attacks happen when hackers gain access to a company and then encrypt proprietary or mission-critical data, holding it ransom.
One of the simplest but most effective ways to protect yourself from such an attack is to regularly back up your company’s data. This way, if attackers steal a portion of it, you can simply restore from backup.
The 3-2-1 backup strategy refers to having 3 copies of your data, on 2 different media, with at least 1 backup offsite. Today, even more aggressive strategies are recommended
However, this kind of infrastructure can be costly to maintain. Opting for a backup or cloud storage provider is usually a more cost-effective solution.
Providers today offer built-in multiple redundancies, encrypted uploading and downloading, and even physical data transfer for heavy initial backups. They have the resources to implement the strictest security practices and the practical knowledge necessary to combat and mitigate the effects of data loss.
4. Invest in Secure Remote Access Software
The right remote access software software can help keep company data safe as employees connect remotely. Look for software with TLS and AES-256 encryption, like that used by RemotePC, and other security features like multi-factor authentication, host-screen blanking, and remote shut off.
For teams, user management features are also important for ensuring best practices and compliance. TeamViewer, for example, supports comprehensive user and device management. Administrators can force session recording, manage user permissions, assign devices to teams or individual users, and more. Security features like these provide an added layer of protection, and make it easier for IT teams to oversee and manage remote connections.
5. Use a Secure Password Manager
The benefits of centralized password managers like Dashlane, LastPass, and Keeper are 2-fold.
First, password managers have been shown to reduce the use of short, simple, common passwords, as well as the reuse of passwords among user accounts. A staggering 80% of data breaches are caused by poor password practices.
Anything that can be done to facilitate proper password practices, like having a unique, complex password for each account, will dramatically decrease the risks associated with remote access. Password managers do so by enabling employees to remember only one password, or better yet, access their credentials with biometric security.
Second, the above password managers all allow for shared, encrypted, hidden passwords. That is, the plain text password is never shared with the employee. Instead, browser add-ons are used to directly enter the password from the software, without it ever being seen by the employee. This is another good way to enforce the use of unique and sufficiently complex passwords for accessing company resources.
6. Provide Employees With Security Training
This is one of the most effective ways to combat the risks of remote access for any business. In fact, one study by IBM found that 95% of successful security attacks are the result of human error.
While investing in the right remote access software, password manager, VPN, and cloud storage providers all facilitate the task of maintaining a secure remote workforce, ultimately, negligence and ignorance constitute the greatest threats to your business’s security and the safety of its data.
Regular, in-depth training will help instill in employees the value and importance of security practices, like using unique passwords and not writing them down, connecting through a VPN, and locking one’s device when leaving it unattended. These may seem self-evident, but a surprisingly high number of employees admit to regularly breaching even such simple security measures.
Ask your IT team or a manager to explain how to properly use software as part of employee onboarding, and then continue to conduct regular security training sessions throughout the year. This is especially important when security protocols change or a new method is adopted. Getting people together for a video conference, rather than simply sending an email, helps reinforce the message and gives people a chance to ask any questions.
Enabling employees to remotely access their workstations and company resources is a great way to increase productivity, flexibility, and stability of daily operations, but needs to be approached with security in mind. By combining the right tools with effective training, your business can safely leverage the many advantages of remote access while significantly minimizing the risks.