11 Cybersecurity Tips for Remote Employees

Cybersecurity for remote employees

Since 2020, the global pandemic has forced organizations to adopt a remote-work model. Accordingly, going remote has shifted how people work. Unfortunately, remote work creates fertile grounds for cyberattacks. Sophisticated malware and ransomware attacks have increased during the pandemic era. Below are some cyber-attack statistics to consider:

  • A staggering 88% of organizations worldwide experienced spear-phishing attempts.
  • Identity Theft Resource Center tracked more than 12,000 publicly reported data breaches since 2005. They report that in the first half of Q3 2021 alone, the number of reported data breaches exceeded that of the entire 2020 fiscal year by 17%.
  • In 2020 alone, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 1.4 million reports of identity theft, double the amount from 2019.

When working from home or at a remote location, devices are no longer under tightened, industry-standard network and security layers. As a result, protecting devices against various cyberattack methods is essential, even more so if the work involves sensitive or confidential data.

Why Remote Employees Need Cybersecurity

Generally, a company deploys enterprise-grade cybersecurity measures for its employees, but most of these measures are often limited to on-site offices. For example, employers use methods to ensure security, such as secure networks, strong firewalls, the principle of least privilege-based IP safelisting, email content scanning, and end-to-end virtual private networks (VPN).

While working from home, many of these safeguards against cyberattacks and data breaches are not available, particularly for small businesses. For example, in comparison, home networks are often poorly configured and do not have encryption enabled by default. Moreover, if a remote employee uses a public network it increases vulnerabilities and the chances of being hacked. Using these networks are fine for personal usage but come with greater risk when being used for a company’s operations.

How Hackers Target Remote Employees

Remote employees are being targeted by hackers through various different methods. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Phishing emails usually target individuals via email or text message. The messages usually appear as though they came come from official companies or trusted connections, such as banks, insurance companies, coworkers, or relatives. They use ploys like fear, excitement, and urgency to get recipients to quickly click a malicious link or attachment, or provide sensitive information to the hacker.
  • Insecure networks allow unwanted individuals to easily gain access to a network. Once on the network, hackers can intercept data being sent and received on the network, as well as distribute malicious software to devices connected to the network.
  • Weak and old passwords leave users particularly vulnerable to being hacked. Hackers who gain access to old passwords can access an account repeatedly until the account owner changes the password. Commonly though, once a hacker breaks into an account, they lock the original user out of it permanently. Lastly, a weak password makes it easier for a cybercriminal to flat-out guess and gain access to an account.

Methods of Cybersecurity for Remote Employees

Multiple easy-to-follow steps can help bolster the security of remote work devices. Below are some cybersecurity tips for remote workers:

1) Always Use A Virtual Private Network: A VPN is a dedicated, encrypted gateway between a personal network and a work network. Using a VPN is among the top cybersecurity tips while working remotely because it minimizes opportunities for hackers to intercept data.

2) Use Strong Passwords and Rotate Them Regularly: Sophisticated hardware-driven cracking tools can easily figure out victims’ passwords. The United States Federal Trade Commission recommends using a password that is at least 12 characters long and comprises a mixture of letters, numbers, and special symbols.

3) Keep Your Software Updated: Malicious codes often target unpatched and old software versions installed in workstations. These days, organizations are quicker to update their applications with security patches. To decrease the chances of software vulnerability-based exploits, do not ignore any software update notifications for mobile devices, laptops, and smartphones.

4) Use Antivirus and Anti-Malware Solutions: Invest in a good antivirus and anti-malware software to lower the vulnerability of devices. These solutions deploy network firewalls and plug known cyberattack routes. They also explicitly deny any suspicious processes or applications. Furthermore, antivirus and anti-malware solutions are continuously strengthened via patches and updates, keeping up with the ever-morphing varieties of malware.

5) Implement Multi-Factor Authentication: Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security for sensitive information storage points. There are various ways MFA can be enabled. One way is sending a one-time password to a trusted device where the user then uses that password to log in. Additionally, there are biometric behaviors and facial recognition. MFA is seeing increasing adoption among organizations in the wake of a massive uptick in cyberattacks over the past few years.

6) Disable Bluetooth When Not in Use: Bluetooth-based cyber exploits have also seen an increase in recent years. To avoid becoming a victim, turn off Bluetooth as soon as you are done with it.

7) Avoid Public Networks: Public networks can be alluring because of free and convenient WiFi, but they are shared, non-secure, and easily penetrable. Therefore, hackers can intercept information sent or retrieved while using them. Alternatively, utilize a VPN if using a public network.

8) Separate Devices: As a thumb rule, always keep work and personal devices separate. This ensures a breach in a personal device does not affect sensitive work data and vice versa. Make sure that work devices are only accessed by the designated user.

9) Use Centralized, Secure Storage for Sensitive Data: While storing files containing sensitive data, make a point to keep them in encrypted devices and behind firewalls. Avoid storing company data locally or on shared network paths.

10) Secure Home Networks: The U.S. FTC recommends turning on WPA2/3 encryption for routers or replacing a router with one that has these options available. WPA2 and WPA3 are the latest encryption standards, as they encrypt all in-flight data for home networks.

Currently, cyberattacks cost organizations a reported $6 trillion annually and are expected to reach an astonishing $15 Trillion per year by 2025. Coupled with the fact that more than 55% of employees prefer to work remotely at least three days per week, implementing cybersecurity is essential. While it may not be feasible to replicate enterprise-grade security or network tightening at home, there are various simpler steps remote employees can implement to bolster the safety of company data and the endpoints that access it.

As an organizational or IT leader, consider implementing cybersecurity best practices such as strong network security and password policies, regular security audits, and breach assessments. Properly training employees about cyber threats and providing cybersecurity tips is also beneficial. Lastly, think ‘when’ and not ‘if’ for cyberattacks and lock your data behind better, impenetrable digital doors.

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