Working remotely may have become a necessity for employees in 2020, and for most companies there’s little sign of a return to full capacity at the office.

With a large portion of remote working employees, businesses face an elevated risk of cyber security breaches as staff are no longer protected by the company’s in-house IT security infrastructure.

Staff will be required to use their own device for a host of different tasks: connecting to corporate servers, accessing online accounts, and relying heavily on messaging services to maintain contact with their team. Outside of the office, these activities can make the life of hackers or snoopers that much easier, or at least increases the chances of accidental data loss through slack security protocols.

So, to help business owners who may be revising existing cyber security strategies, here are 6 solutions which are key to maximizing data security and prevent information from falling into the wrong hands:

1. Outsource to cloud services

Outsourcing to cloud based IT services could perhaps be the most effective move to help reduce the amount network vulnerabilities and subsequent pathways for hackers to exploit.

With a cloud based IT solution, all necessary software, apps and online services can be integrated into one single computing environment.

Employees will no longer have to rely on multiple third-party software for every task, which would otherwise increasing the risk of data breaches by potentially using outdated software and by storing such data on their computers – often unencrypted. Instead, data can be kept secure and encrypted within the cloud. Not to mention, cloud servers offer scalability and cost-effectiveness by allowing easy and efficient allocation of resources.

Cloud services mean much of the entire IT infrastructure can exist within the cloud where it’s easy to update, and incorporate security practices such as device and user authentication. It’s also easier to stay on par with emerging security innovations such as machine learning and other AI-based technologies aimed to combat cyber security threats.

2. Train employees on security risks

Human mistakes are often the leading cause of data breaches. When staff are out of the office, employers will need to build new guidelines which focus on the biggest threats faced when working remotely.

Educating staff to be vigilant of bogus emails which hackers use for phishing attacks is always essential; however, it’s more vital as staff are now using their devices which may not detect malware as quickly and could become unknowingly compromised.

Signs of a cyber attack can be as subtle as a computer slowing down, losing control of the mouse or keyboard, or unusual pop-ups appearing on screen. When working in the office, staff have the  advantage of being in close proximate to colleagues and the company’s security team in order to raise the flag when issues such as these arise. However, remote workers may be too isolated and may not report issues quickly enough before they escalate to serious security breaches, so clearer instructions need to be communicated to staff.

It may also be necessary to raise awareness on how social engineering attacks can be prevented. If staff are receiving phone calls that aren’t recorded are per the usual security protocols, or even monitored by others members of staff, then social engineers could go unnoticed long enough to cause damage.

Social engineers use cunning methods either through sophisticated phishing attempts via email, SMS or even over the phone to solicit information about a company or their clients. It’s vital for staff to undergo training in order to detect a suspicious communication, and prevent accidental exposure of private information. By having clear guidelines on what can or cannot be shared can defend against the most intelligent of social engineers.

3. Use professional encryption-based messaging apps

Keeping you and your colleagues in communication can be challenging when ensuring that all exchanges are kept secure from prying eyes.

Whilst Zoom, Whatsapp, Facetime and Google Hangouts are popular apps used for conference meetings, there are alternative options for people seeking to use platforms that don’t harvest user data, and which support end-to-end encryption. Apps such as Jami and Jitsi offer the same features but also support user’s right to privacy. They’re known as ‘open-source’, therefore the apps’ source code is publicly accessible for inspection so users may trust that their data is not being covertly collected or monitored.

Also, other trustworthy messenger services should be considered to keep in touch with colleagues, such as Signal, Microsoft Teams or Slack. It’s best to avoid services such as What’s App or Facebook Messenger which aren’t necessarily focused on supporting conference calls, and offer less protection for user data.

4. Provide staff with dedicated business-only devices

Despite all efforts to train staff, or to outsource your cyber security needs, data may never be as secure if the devices being used to conduct business are compromised in any way.

If staff are left to use their own device, questions need to be asked: Are employees regularly updating their phone or laptop? Have they installed anti-malware or virus protection? Are they the only person using the device? What about other apps and services held on the device, are they requesting access to files and folders?

With many staff working from home, hackers now have the advantage of being able to target many more potentially poorly secured smartphones and laptops. But it may be near impossible to ensure that all staff are actually looking after their devices to the same high standard.

Therefore, by providing and designating laptops or smartphones for business use only is another method to ensure there’s less chance of a cyber breach. It also eases the burden on security teams who could have a difficult task in identifying and resolving issues if staff are using different operating systems, and software.

5. Integrate a Mobile Device Management (MDM) Solution

If providing business-only devices isn’t quite going full nine yards, then incorporating a Mobile Device Management solution should work to reassure business owners that all devices are operating at the required standard.

An MDM offers companies the ability to control and monitor the functions and usage of smartphones, laptops or tablets to ensure that each device is compliant with company protocols. Employers can have direct access to each device to configure settings, update operating systems, install apps and obtain usage and location data.

This solution helps to ensure no unapproved apps are used which could compromise data held in the device and can help businesses stay complaint with regulatory bodies.

6. Use a professional VPN service

Having first been developed in the early 90’s, VPN’s have stood the test of time; today they remain fundamental when securing IT networks in office environments, and also when working remotely.

A VPN tunnels internet traffic to a remote server, whilst encapsulating data with strong encryption. From a security standpoint, if you choose to get a New Zealand VPN online, you can protect your internet activities from being collected and monitored by your ISPs, and it can also work to prevent hackers from gathering this data too.

If using a public WiFI, a VPN is a must to prevent malicious users from extracting private information in the form of bogus WiFi networks. Phishing attacks are one such hazard whereby hackers can redirect unsuspecting users to fake websites where sensitive data such as log-in credentials can be collected.

By using a VPN’s encryption, bad actors would be unable to decipher the contents if you accidentally connect to a spoofed WiFi network.

Whilst VPNs must be installed on each device separately, not every device is capable of installing the software, such as such as wireless camera, or IoT devices. So, to ensure that every device your household can benefit from the security a VPN offers, a VPN router can be purchased with your preferred VPN either pre-installed or by manually configuring the router.

There’s no doubt that businesses around the world will be burdened with the cyber security challenges that remote working employees create, not to mention the financial strain upon business owners.  Everything from assessing possible gateways in which bad actors could infiltrate a network, to identifying vulnerabilities of devices and software need to be carried out to determine the right solution. Nevertheless, there’s a sufficient and cost-effective solution at hand for businesses of all sizes.