How to Remotely Secure Your Small Business Data

Before COVID-19, you may have had a flexible work policy or occasional work-from-home days available. Now, you have as many employees working from home as possible to keep everyone safe.

In the haste surrounding lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, speed was essential. That meant many small businesses like yours did the best they could for data security in a limited time. However, this massive shift has put your data and network security at risk since few small businesses were adequately prepared.

A recent study by Cisco suggested that 6% of employees admitted to mixing up files between their personal and work gadgets when working from home. Such practices could potentially jeopardize company data and cost thousands of dollars in recovery measures.

Small business owners often think that they do not have enough data to require a safety solution, but the truth is data breaches can happen to any enterprise, and they are a huge setback.  A Small Business Congressional Committee in the US found that 71% of cyber theft happened to businesses with less than 100 employees. With such attacks on the rise, every small business owner has a responsibility to enact remote data security measures in the data, network, and employee capacities.

What is at risk?

Some of the sensitive company information that is the target of cyber-attacks include:

  • Client lists
  • Client credit card information
  • Banking details
  • Expansion strategies
  • Pricing structures
  • Product designs and production sequences

Such information in the wrong hands could potentially cost your company thousands to millions in damages or even bring down your entire company.

Here are three ways to deal with data security in a remote work environment.

1) Data handling

Employees working from home often have critical data, including spreadsheets, financial files, and human resource files in their personal computers. These gadgets could have unapproved applications that attackers could leverage to access such information. Could your company still run seamlessly if cyber attackers managed to delete your data? Unfortunately, such occurrences have been the end of many business in the past, yet an eWeek study suggested that over 50% of Small business owners think that data loss could not cause devastating harm to company operations. They are wrong. Your data handling measures should include:

Data back-up

As a careful and prudent business owner, you need to start your data security efforts by ensuring that every byte of data is recoverable, should any loss or compromise happen. Whether backed up in the cloud or offsite storage, such data will be only a few clicks away.

Backing up all devices is a simple precaution many business owners overlook. This prevents the loss of data if a device is stolen or stops working. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce points out, “According to Nationwide, 68% of small businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan.” That’s an enormous figure, and it costs your company money every hour you cannot use company data.

Full-disk protection

Full disk encryption protects everything in a phone or computer memory against an outsider reading it. This simple data security tool comes with the Windows operating system, or you can buy other versions. Using it means your company data is secure unless someone uses the right password. Most mobile devices provide full-disk device protection, which companies can leverage as well.

Modern laptops have full encryption integrated into their file systems, like the Microsoft NTFS file system. Other operating systems, including Mac and Linux, support full disc encryption as well. As a business owner, you should configure and tune these encryptions for your remote workers.

Directing employees to log out

How many people log out of their work laptop when they’re done using it? Not many. There should be a rule to always log out of work systems, whether working at home or in a public place, like a library. Kids are known to get into their parents’ devices, and they could potentially send emails with confidential data to unauthorized persons. This can prevent unauthorized access while your device is left unattended.

Planning before a breach occurs

The world is headed towards an era where data breaches will be nearly inevitable. Small businesses must plan for such occurrences. At the very least, your plan should:

  • Have a quick response and recovery plan.
  • Ensure employees are enlisted and trained on best practices during an attack.
  • Ensure regular audits and updates to maintain security hygiene and see that all data platforms are up to date and intact.

 

2) Network and security infrastructure

Policies

If you entered the COVID-19 public health crisis without one, your company needs one now. This gives your employees a set of expectations that they can then practice. This increases your company’s overall network security from a point of human error.

Every small business owner should seek to maintain a secure network, whether employees are working from home or not. It all starts with defining a remote work policy. The policy should clearly define what is required of your remote employees to protect company information while communicating and working. Besides, the policy could also feature the following:

  • Security update schedule
  • Company approved messaging applications (less likely to be intruded)
  • Guidelines on back up practices

Least privilege concept

The concept of ‘least privilege’ should work remotely as much as it works in the office. Every employee, including executives, should have access to only what they require to perform their duties.

Communication

When it comes to communication, email encryption policies using certificates or other methods reduce the chances of access by unauthorized persons. Providing chat and video conferencing resources allows the employees to stay in touch and keep up the warmth as though they were in a physical setting.

Network security software

Ensure that their machines have company-customized network security software that features attack-mitigation measures like vulnerability scanning and intrusion detection mechanisms. Consider exactly what your employees need to successfully work from home. Then, set up their devices to only access those services, such as email or cloud applications. If someone only needs occasional access to sensitive data, you can invite them into the office on a specific day with all the appropriate health precautions.

 

3) Employee measures

Employers must help their remote employees to fit the set security standards.

Setting security measures

Necessary security measures include the need for strong passwords and guidelines on internet use. The best policies feature violation penalties. Once remote security measures are set, training the employees on the same is essential.

Most remote access applications let you set up both time of day and IP restriction on who can access them. By restricting employees to the regular workday, you can help prevent hacking attempts. Additionally, it helps your company culture and work-life balance, which are particularly crucial during work-from-home periods.

Firewalls and antiviruses

Firewalls prevent unauthorized data access on private networks. While operating systems come with inbuilt firewall features, a company can go the extra mile of providing premium, customized firewall software to its remote workers. The same goes for security solutions that keep viruses and other malware at bay.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPN stands for virtual private network, and it allows an employee’s device to behaved as if it were plugged in at the office. However, if you run a large company, you’ll need to prepare for all of your employees connecting at once. Existing VPNs were not created to accommodate everyone connecting simultaneously. For example, if all 750,000 Amazon employees connect to their corporate VPN, it would likely crash.

Commercial and open source VPN solutions will often protect against unauthorized access or eavesdropping, so it’s a great tool to use when your company goes remote. Be sure to shop around and find a secure VPN that can minimize your risk and improve your network security. There are so many VPN providers in the market today, some bad, and some excellent. A VPN that your security team has customized, tested, and verified will ensure that remote workers don’t work on easily compromisable connections. This measure goes a long way towards protecting private data.

Passwords and desktop security layers

Leverage multi-factor employee-identification protocols to mitigate the risk of data breaches. In this line, employees should be advised to create complex passwords and probably change them once a month. Adding remote desktop security layers could ensure that workers can only access company files on work computers.

Applications

Your security model could also prohibit employees from installing unnecessary software, especially store unapproved software. You could do this by restricting access to Google Play, Microsoft apps, and Apple store on all work devices and have your security personnel send and monitor the installation of any apps on the devices.

Two-Factor Authentication

This system helps to authenticate the identity of a user to gain access control. Typically, all you need is username and password to login. Two-factor authentication requires (as its name suggests) a two-step process. In addition to your name and password, you’ll need some sort of pin that goes to your phone or email.

Here’s how it would work. Your employee would go to log into a system. They would enter their username and password. They could then be prompted to receive a call, text, or push notification to a connected app. The call or text would provide them a pin that they would need to enter on-screen. The push notification would automatically verify that they had the device in question and were the person attempting to login.

This practice makes it difficult for malicious actors to access systems and thus makes it secure. It’s unlikely that someone attempting to put your system at risk would be have the username, password, and pin generated by the two-factor authentication. This is now a recommend security measure for businesses.

Final Thoughts

Every small business owner needs to prioritize data security. The risk of a data breach is even higher, now that many employees are working from home. Remember that the resources you could use in recovery efforts, should a breach occur, is far more than what you could use protecting it. In data protection, simple steps like changing passwords every month could mean everything. Customize your security models to fit your company operations best. Before deploying the practices and policies to employees, evaluate and determine their workability internally. Technology evolves at a high and unstoppable rate. Similarly, cyber attackers come up with new methods all the time. As such, be keen to stay updated and learn new threats so that you adjust your systems accordingly.

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“71% of cyber theft happened to businesses with less than 100 employees.”

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