The new normal: 7 ways to stay vigilant with a remote workforce

Businesses must be proactive to deter hackers exploiting the pandemic

Apr 24, 2020
Risk consulting Cybersecurity consulting Cybersecurity COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many companies were forced to quickly implement a remote workforce environment. With insufficient time to plan and little experience in implementing such widespread remote initiatives, many strategies may have resulted in potential security vulnerabilities. Even if your company did not check all of the control boxes when implementing a remote framework, you still have opportunities to secure critical information and applications. 

With the move to an almost exclusively remote work for many companies, the culture has changed and risk profiles must be adjusted. A more distributed workforce means a larger target for cybercriminals, with many more access points that may be at risk. Therefore, while speed is often the main consideration when implementing a new work structure, security must be top of mind moving forward. 

In the current environment, hackers are relentless and risks can evolve quickly. Bad actors are actively trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, deploying phishing and social engineering attacks masked as legitimate communications from respected health organizations or company leadership. 

Suffering a significant breach combined with the effects of the pandemic could be extremely damaging for many companies. Incident response is always a costly proposition, and issues may be even more difficult to discover and isolate in a structure that the company may not be completely familiar with yet. Waiting for a breach before addressing security concerns is never a good strategy, but it could be even more harmful now. 

However, being proactive about your security in the new remote environment is possible, and can save you a significant amount of money in the long run. The following are seven areas that your company can focus on to shore up potential security vulnerabilities as you become comfortable with a new productivity framework:   

  1. Updated polices: Many policies and procedures are not designed for an almost 100% remote workforce. Now is a good time to make sure management and employees know what is expected when working remotely, how to resolve issues related to your organization and update procedures related to business processes.
  2. Security awareness training: As the entire work environment has changed, employees must become more familiar with the risks that come along with it. This training must be targeted and specific, providing insights into threats that might be more pronounced as they apply to working remotely, such as more complex phishing attacks.
  3. General training: Employees are adopting new technology in a remote model, and emphasizing best practices is important, whether demonstrated through virtual, instructor-led training or online tutorials. While security training is a must, it does not provide insight into specific applications. Now is also the time to focus on general training so employees do not inadvertently misuse technology. 
  4. Cyber liability insurance: With the frequency and scope of cyberattacks increasing, cyber insurance has become a valuable protective measure to safeguard sensitive data, intellectual property, finances and company reputation. Be sure to pay close attention to policy coverages to ensure that potential risks are adequately addressed.    
  5. Zero trust security model: A more distributed workforce is inherently more susceptible to attacks due to a much larger surface area. It is much more difficult to determine who is a threat and who is a legitimate network user; so a zero trust model takes an impartial view of your infrastructure, initially trusting nobody inside or outside of your network.
  6. Two-factor authentication: A two-factor authentication strategy has become a critical element of any technology platform, but especially within a new, unfamiliar framework. The strategy requires users to present multiple pieces of evidence before receiving access to the network, creating additional barriers to unauthorized access.  
  7. Logging and monitoring: An effective logging and monitoring strategy is a key element of any security program. It can help stop an attack quicker, and help track down where an incident originated in order to diagnose the event. 

With the fundamental shift in how employees are interacting with technology, now is an ideal time to introduce new security measures. Indeed, enhanced security would represent another step in the evolution to the remote workforce, rather than a completely new project. 

To help ease the transition, an experienced advisor can assess your remote environment, identify security vulnerabilities and implement any of the seven protective measures above. Even following the COVID-19 pandemic, a remote workforce is likely to be a significant element of many productivity strategies moving forward. So while it was almost impossible to prepare for this particular crisis, your company can be ready for how your workforce is structured in the future.

RSM contributors