Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear about the debate of remote work vs in person work. As a business owner you may have employees working remotely. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations into a hybrid work environment that they have yet to bounce back from. At that time, remote work was viewed as a solution to a monumental problem, but it came with hidden risks attached. Malicious actors now had a variety of new attack points to choose from. The pandemic eventually waned but the risks to business remain. The dramatic rise in cyber threats targeting remote workers is a ticking time bomb that every business should be wary of. It’s time to confront this reality and arm yourself with a comprehensive strategy to safeguard your remote workforce.
Understand the Threat Landscape
First things first, identifying the risks. Consider the case of the infamous hack against meat producer, JBS. This attack affected thousands of workers and consumers. It wasn’t just an attack on IT, it was an attack on the food system. What was the source of this attack, according to a report on Security Scorecards’ blog analysis it was remote access systems used by user working remotely. The mitigation? An in-depth understanding of the threat landscape and a proactive approach to security. Knowing your enemy is the first step in any battle, and this is no different. In this case we know that that attackers are targeting computers that connect to company network systems. They are aware that these computers on a home network have less security than corporate network endpoints.
Establishing a Secure Infrastructure
Once you’ve got the measure of the threats, the next step is to secure the connections your employees may have. Ever heard of the coffee shop hacker trope? It’s more fact than fiction, but it serves as a valuable teaching mechanism. An employee connecting to an unsecured network can unknowingly open the door to cybercriminals. Using a reliable Virtual Private Network (VPN) can help encrypt your data traffic, making it unreadable for any prying eyes. But remember audit those connections regularly to make sure that only the expected employees are connecting. Initial Access Brokers or IABs have created an entire industry exploiting unused and forgotten vpn account credentials. They typically sell this types of access to others who attempt to profit from the opportunity. You can learn more about IABs here.
Next on the list is to fortify your defenses with robust firewall and antivirus systems. Why is this important? Working from home means working behind the security of the home firewall, and home firewalls are vulnerable due to the fact that they are outdated or insecure by design flaw. Mirai, which is a type of malware is designed to find and infect vulnerable firewalls typically found in many employees homes and offices. A reliable firewall and antivirus solution can prevent such unauthorized intrusions and keep your sensitive data safe. TIP #1: Take a look at Okta identity management or Cloudflare Tunnels as access methods to validate and authenticate remote workers.
More employees are leaving the company’s network to work from home means the risk of more data leaving with them. We previously discussed access to data, but what about the employees work data itself which is carried around in laptops? Even if the data is in the cloud, most cloud services sync to local computers. This means that data breaches are not always a matter of breaching the company’s firewall. For those who work remotely, encryption is your best friend. The 2017 Equifax data breach, where the credit information of millions was leaked, serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of data loss. While an employer may struggle to find the resources to acquire robust security solutions some of the simplest strategies are often within reach. Take encryption as an example. Encrypting sensitive data both at rest and in transit can significantly reduce the risk of data leaks.
But what happens if your data gets lost or deleted? That’s where regular data backups and a robust recovery plan come into play.
While technical measures are critical, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. Human error is often the weakest link in the security chain. Phishing email is a known threat and get it is still the leading cause of initial attack. An employee may assume an email is legitimate, or that an attachment is harmless, and this can kick off a devastating chain of events. Regular cybersecurity training for remote employees can help them spot potential threats and react appropriately. Simple one-off training sessions aren’t enough anymore. Lone training sessions are just enough information to make employees stress and to weaken their mental health by making them think the problem is both simple and that they are the ones to blame. The truth, though, is far more nuanced. Take the case of the Twitter Bitcoin scam, where employees were tricked into giving access to high-profile accounts. These were neither uneducated or indifferent employees. The attack was coordinated and the attackers well organized. Regular training give employees the right tools to address these challenges.
Phishing attacks are another major concern. The 2016 DNC email leak was a result of a successful phishing attack. These sorts of attacks are often easy to spot, but they succeed because they are frequent. Remember: For the attacker to fail the employee has to always be right, but for the attacker to succeed they only have to right once. These odds are what have made phishing attacks so dangerous. By teaching your employees to recognize and report suspicious emails, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to such attacks. Tip #2: Ask your MSP or service provider to conduct a penetration test that includes social engineering. Then follow that up with a Q&A that helps users to learn from the experience.
Implementing Secure Policies
Still, the most robust security systems can crumble if not backed by secure policies. Weak or reused passwords are a hacker’s dream come true. Implementing strong password policies and two-factor authentication, like the ones in place at Google, can add an extra layer of security. Compliance risks are easy to find when secure policies are in place. Policies are not just for infrastructure. What portion of companies allow personal devices on the company network? Are there standard practices outlined for support, and for lines of communication within the company when there is a suspected breach? How we manage the event is as important as how we manage day to day activities. Tip #3: Hardware tokens like Yubikeys sold at Yubico and similar technologies like the Titan Security Key sold by Google are an excellent way to protect your most important accounts.
How important is it to define these policies? Insecured personal devices can serve as a backdoor to your network. The Snapchat employee data leak is an apt example. By implementing Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions and controlling the devices that have access to company data, you can prevent such incidents.
Finally, regular audits and software updates are crucial. The 2014 Heartbleed bug was due to a vulnerability in an outdated version of OpenSSL. Regular audits and keeping your systems updated can help your companies catch such vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.
Securing your remote workforce is an ongoing process, not a one-time task. It’s about understanding the risks, establishing a secure infrastructure, protecting your data, educating your employees, and implementing secure policies. Each of these steps, from using a VPN to encrypt traffic to conducting regular security audits, plays a crucial role in managing your organization’s overall cybersecurity.
Remember the SolarWinds hack, the WannaCry ransomware attack, the Equifax data breach, or the Twitter Bitcoin scam? All of these incidents serve as important reminders of the potential risks we face in the digital realm. All of these incidents should cause us to ask, “How safe is my remote workforce”, and “how can better protect our infrastructure and productivity?”
By taking a proactive stance, you can protect your remote workforce and ensure your organization doesn’t become another cautionary tale. Knowing the risks and intelligently navigating through them is our specialty. As an MSP, Syslogic, has the resources and the experience to help you choose one, two, or more of these proactive technologies, and implement them in an effective manner. Peace of mind is when you can forget the risk because you have established a secure framework for your remote workers.
The world of remote work opens up a spectrum of opportunities and benefits for businesses. It expands the range of the traditional office, but it also presents unique cybersecurity challenges. It’s important to face these challenges head-on. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Share this guide with your colleagues and fellow professionals – it might be the most crucial step they take towards securing their remote workforce.