Remote Worker Cybersecurity Risks

September 13, 2023 by
Mark Nash

Most people have pushed COVID out of their minds and returned to doing things the way they were done before the pandemic. However, remote work has remained quite popular for many individuals and organizations. It provides flexibility and convenience for employees and helps reduce office costs. Many also cite productivity benefits due to fewer distractions, with research showing a 56% reduction in unproductive time when working at home vs. the office. Of course, as with anything, there are some drawbacks to working outside the office. It's crucial to be aware of the increased cybersecurity risks that come with remote and hybrid work, as it becomes much harder to keep an eye on devices and manage network security. About 63% of businesses have experienced a data breach due to remote employees. Thankfully, this statistic doesn't mean you must risk security to enjoy remote working, as long as you can strike a balance. Below, we'll discuss some of the top cybersecurity risks associated with remote work and practical tips on how to address them.

Remote Work Risks & Mitigation

Weak Passwords and Lack of Multi-Factor Authentication

You've heard this one before, but it bears repeating, using weak passwords, reusing passwords across several accounts, and a lack of multi-factor authentication (MFA) puts accounts at a much greater risk of a breach. To mitigate this risk, you should create strong and unique passwords for each account. Of course, the most important form of password protection is MFA, which adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification. Additionally, employers can set up access management systems to help automate the authentication process and deploy safeguards like contextual MFA.

Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Working remotely means connecting to different Wi-Fi networks than the one developed and secured by the IT team, such as home networks that are not adequately secured or potentially even public hotspots. These unsecured networks can (and likely will) expose your sensitive data to hackers. To protect company data, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connecting to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. A VPN encrypts the internet traffic to ensure data remains secure even on untrusted networks.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks remain a prevalent and often frequent threat, and remote workers are often particularly vulnerable. Attackers send deceptive emails or messages to trick users into revealing their login credentials or downloading malicious attachments. To defend against phishing attacks:

  • Be cautious when opening emails, especially those from unknown sources.
  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links.
  • Verify the sender's email address.
  • Be wary of any requests for sensitive information.
  • If in doubt, contact your IT support team to confirm the legitimacy of the communication.

Insecure Home Network Devices

There has been a rise in the popularity of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. These include devices like smart speakers, home security systems, smart thermostats, and more. However, like any device that connects to the internet (directly or indirectly), these devices are potential vulnerabilities to your home network if not properly secured. To address this risk, change the default passwords on these devices, and keep them updated with the latest firmware. Additionally, creating a separate network for your IoT devices can isolate them from your work devices and data.

Lack of Security Updates

Nothing is perfect, and security patches and updates are regularly pushed for any modern software or device. So, regularly updating your devices and software is crucial for maintaining strong cybersecurity. Remote workers will likely have to be relied on to perform these updates themselves since the IT team often won't have access to their devices. Cybercriminals frequently exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software to gain unauthorized access to systems. To mitigate this risk:

  • Enable automatic updates on devices and software whenever possible.
  • Regularly check for updates.
  • Install them promptly to ensure you have the latest security patches.

Data Backup and Recovery

Remote workers generate and handle as much data as employees in the office and face the same risk of data loss or corruption. Implementing a robust data backup and recovery plan is essential to protect that data. Back up your important files to a secure cloud storage service or an external hard drive to ensure that if a hacker compromises a device, your data remains safe and can be easily restored.

Insufficient Employee Training

Just like in-office workers, remote workers need to receive proper cybersecurity training. Cybersecurity training is necessary for employees to understand security risks and best practices. Unfortunately, many companies neglect this aspect of cybersecurity, leaving employees unaware of the potential threats they may encounter. This training should cover topics such as:

  • Identifying phishing emails
  • Creating strong passwords
  • Recognizing suspicious online behavior
  • New forms of phishing (such as SMS-based "smishing")