16% of companies across the globe are fully remote with 27% having hybrid models of work.
That means 43% of businesses worldwide have remote teams working from outside the office premises part of the time or full-time.
The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have shown us that businesses can operate remotely, with significant benefits in some cases.
Having remote teams translate to
- Cost savings: office space, utilities, overheads, and salaries
- A larger talent pool: The pool of choices becomes much deeper once the geographic boundaries are removed
- Better employee morale: Studies show that 37% of the global workforce would prefer a remote or hybrid work environment
- But also elevated security risks
This article will probe into that last point and explore how password best practices and better cybersecurity awareness can help businesses make remote work environments more secure and mitigate the vulnerabilities introduced by remote team members.
The Security Challenges Of Having Remote Teams
There are two main security challenges specific to remote teams.
1. A Larger Attack Surface
Remote workers may be using their own devices to access organizational resources and applications. In fact, “bring your own device” has become the norm at least for remote teams.
Here, a team member can connect to insecure WiFi, install and keep vulnerable applications, and may even share the device with someone else.
2. Lack Of Vigilance And Control
The in-house IT department cannot reliably track all the networks the personal device is connected to, the public WiFi it may be connected to, or the data storage units being plugged into it.
On top of that, with remote work, the scope for shadow IT increases. Overall, it is a less secure environment.
Then there are security challenges that are common for both on-prem and remote workers but might have a greater impact on remote workers.
3. Social Engineering Attacks
It’s easier to target remote workers with social engineering attacks because they are often unintroduced to the rest of the team or the leadership.
In fact, if a remote worker receives an email from a company’s CEO asking for credentials to a specific account, there is no way for them to just walk to their office and verify.
4. Phishing Attacks
Phishing is a form of social engineering but it deserves it’s own focus. Attackers combine manipulative social engineering tactics like pretexting, and baiting to lure employees into fake websites that are designed to convince the targeted individuals to share their credentials or download a malicious packet.
In 2021, following the big boom in hybrid work culture, 76% of the remote workforce was targeted with phishing emails.
5. Malware Infection
Remote workers are targeted more often with malware attacks because there is a likelihood that their devices are exempt from having standardized security measures like firewalls, malware scanners, and antivirus.
Some companies leave security to the employee’s discretion, risking the security of the entire organization.
Malware payloads may be injected into a target’s computer system through a phishing attack, from a vulnerable website, or an online bait.
Some of the more dangerous types of malware are
- Spyware: This is malware that can track your activity down to your keystrokes, steal your personal information, and take over your compute.
- Ransomware: Malware that encrypts your data and demands money in exchange for the decryption key.
- Remote access trojan: RATs are malware that allows hackers to gain access to a computer and control it remotely.
Security Best Practices For Remote Teams
This post is intended to highlight password best practices but as a prologue to that, certain general security best practices must be mentioned.
- All employees, remote or in-house, must use secure internet connections.
- Every device used to access organizational data should be protected by firewalls and antivirus.
- Devices used by remote workers should receive periodic malware scans and cleanups
- The IT department should be aware of the cloud-based applications used by remote members of the organization.
- Every employee, remote or not, should receive cybersecurity awareness training
- Organizations should have clear security policies and a way to ensure that they are followed.
Password Security Best Practices For Remote Teams
Access management and identity management play a pivotal role in enabling companies to operate securely with remote teams.
It is only with strictly enforced authentication policies that large companies like Amazon have been able to have a thriving remote work culture without struggling with security threats every hour.
Solid password checklist and authentication policies are the bedrock of security for remote teams. The following are certain practices that need to be adhered to diligently.
1. Use A Password Manager
A company based out of Amsterdam has bought an annual subscription for a project management tool.
Now, the admin needs to share the credentials with an employee who is working from Copenhagen. How should the admin share this sensitive information?
Sending the password in plain text via email or chat is as secure as posting it on social media.
What if the employee forgets the password and has to reset it urgently? The reset email will be received by the admin who might not be available at that time.
What if the remote employee receives a vishing call where the admin wants the employee to share the credentials over the phone? Does the employee comply? There would surely be a lot of pressure.
All such situations can be avoided by simply using a password manager. With a solid password management solution built specifically for teams spread across the map, password security becomes easy.
Contrary to popular opinion, password managers, good ones, of course, can enhance productivity and increase security by reducing dependency on memory.
Here’s What A Password Manager Can Do
- Generate strong passwords and auto-reset passwords regularly
- Encrypt, store, and protect all passwords with a master password
- Auto-fill login information, payment information, even names and addresses
- Enable secure password sharing among team members
- Take social engineering and phishing attacks out of the equation
2. Use Two-factor Authentication For All Accounts
Any application that isn’t secured by 2FA should not be allowed to access organizational information.
That is to say that every employee should enable 2FA on all services they use for work, and ideally for personal purposes.
The extra layer of security afforded by two-factor authentication ensures that the security of a system against malicious actors doesn’t hinge on a password alone.
3. Security Awareness Training For All
Employees should recognize a phishing site when they see one. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that.
Regular security training across departments and frequent security drills and assessments establish security as a core value in a workplace and build a culture of security.
Remote workers need to partake in these drills and build a strong sense of security.
4. Constant Vigilance
Since attackers are truly out there trying to steal your data or corrupt your digital and physical assets, a little paranoia cannot hurt.
If something feels remotely out of the ordinary, it probably is out of the ordinary. In a world where 3.4 billion phishing emails are sent daily, being cautious about clicking on something is not optional.
5. Clear Protocols And A Response Plan
In the event of a password breach, the victim should have clear guidelines and a strategic plan of action.
The right procedure can help an organization address a breach securely and avoid further damage.
Whereas, if a remote employee accidentally compromises sensitive information and keeps quiet about it out of fear of judgment or punishment, it could be disastrous for the organization.