How To Ensure Data Security When Working Remotely

Believing that the surge in remote work globally is solely due to the coronavirus pandemic is a misconception. Although the pandemic significantly contributed to this trend, the necessity for remote work in ensuring a business operates efficiently has been recognized for many years. The movement towards remote work has been gaining momentum lately as businesses worldwide are becoming aware of the advantages it offers. This shift can be attributed to various reasons, including lowering expenses related to maintaining a physical workplace or enhancing job functions that necessitate travel and participation in meetings with clients, partners, and prospective investors in different locations.

The phenomenon is certainly nothing new, and even the humble fax machine or mobile phone can be considered technology that allowed for remote working decades ago. Perhaps the biggest technological leap that has facilitated this boom in the phenomenon, however, is cloud storage and improved communication technology. With cloud technology, business employees have been able to access the same workflow infrastructure that in the past would require attendance at an office. And for ease of communication with fellow employees, the strides made in seamless video conferencing and unified communications have allowed for close coordination when and where it really matters.

All of this is really that which has driven the trend towards remote working; and it was a trend that was in full swing long before the pandemic. But this is not to say that the pandemic has not had a game-changing effect. This effect is merely in another area – data security.

The Real Effect of the Pandemic

It is well known that the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the general shift towards increased remote working. Indeed, companies that develop and market the technology that facilitates remote working are among the few that had a profitable pandemic. It is evidence though that the phenomenon existed beforehand that many of those sent to the home office or given remote working roles will not be returning to the office now that the pandemic is subsiding (or, more accurately, we are able to cope with it better). This shows that things were going that way anyway.

Instead, what the pandemic has actually fundamentally changed is that it has made apparent the data security risks inherent in remote working and emphasised the urgency of doing something about this. Before the pandemic, it is estimated that 41% of workers in the USA were working for companies that did not provide mobile communications. Similarly, 44% of companies were simply not allowing remote work for their employees.

The coronavirus forced a change here, with many workers who had never before occupied remote working roles suddenly being forced to. With such a sharp increase (and with many of these workers not possessing company-approved communication technology) the potential data security threats to these companies massively increased. This is simply because a much larger number of employees (many of whom are inexperienced in remote working) were using their own personal devices, logging on to insecure public wi-fi networks and seriously risking the data of the companies for which they were working.

Accordingly, this has encouraged an increased awareness of the data security threats of remote working. This has in turn led to companies updating the technology used for remote working, investing in new software and equipment, and finally giving employees company-approved mobile communication devices. And of course, the tech industry responsible for creating such technology has been there to oblige the increased need for improved data security. That is something that was not happening before, and thus it can be thought of as the true legacy of the Covid where remote working is concerned.

Tips for Ensuring Safe Remote Working

As well as using the correct technology, what other tips can be offered to these legions of new remote workers, forced out of the offices for good by the pandemic? As it happens, there are many things that each individual can do to optimise their cyber security when working remotely – and also plenty that a company can do too. Here are just a few:

Appraise Data Risks and Create Data Security Policy

Doing this properly means identifying what your data security risks are and then making sure that all employees are aware of company policy on data security. For many lower-level employees not handling either customer data or sensitive information from the upper echelons of the company hierarchy, data security might not be a pressing concern.

For starters, a company can employ data privacy consultants to assess the sensitiveness of the data and how access to it is distributed amongst employees. This is certainly the first step. Afterwards, a data security policy document can be created that all employees are obliged to read and sign, regardless of whether they work remotely or not. This is an effective way of establishing a bottom line when it comes to data security and making sure that everybody in the company is on board and liable for any violations.

Make Sure Internet Connections are Secure

This can be especially important. All employees should be fully aware that using public wi-fi networks is a bad idea, as this opens sensitive data to potential access by malicious agents. It should be common knowledge among employees that using personal networks is necessary, meaning using mobile hotspots when in public places and not the local coffee shop wi-fi.

Optimise Password Security

In practice, this means making use of strong and varied passwords, and making use of a password manager to coordinate this. Using the same password from device to device and network to network is a definite data security risk and should be discouraged. An effective way to implement this is to offer password security training to employees. And while we are on that topic, offering general data security training courses to employees is also an incredibly good idea.

Use Encryption Software

Remote working can mean the home office, but it can also mean working while on the go and in different locations. Depending on what type of remote working role an employee has, they could be working in a different far-flung part of the country (or even world) every other day. Thus, the chances of company devices being lost and stolen is a major risk; encryption software is the best way to ensure any malicious agents cannot access the data contained on a device that falls into bad hands.

These are only a few tips for company data security in this new age of mass remote working, and there could be many more included here. The bottom line, however, is that data security is a major concern. In fact, it has never been more so.

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