Since the pandemic, the popularity of remote work has risen dramatically. In Great Britain, as of May 2023, Statista reported that 39% of workers had worked from home in the previous seven days. Forbes notes that according to expert projections, nearly 36 million people will work remotely in the United States by 2025. And Gartner predicts “by the end of 2023, 39% of global knowledge workers will work hybrid.”
While remote work can be incredibly beneficial for businesses, it also brings challenges, as in response to the trend, cybercriminals have realised there are new vulnerabilities to exploit. That’s because telecommuters - those working from home, making use of the internet, email, and the telephone - often need more preparation than those in the office to handle the increased risk they face. To cope businesses must adapt and overcome their workforce’s cyber security skills gap, or else.
Unique cyber security challenges
- Personal devices: Personal computers and mobile phones typically lack adequate security measures compared to a business’s devices. Because of this, employees who use their own technology for work can put their employer at risk.
- Network connections: Many remote workers travel outside their homes to conduct business. Connecting to a public internet source also increases their risk of cyberattacks.
- Online behaviour: People are likelier to practice unsafe behaviours when working independently. For instance, they often don’t update their devices or change their Wi-Fi password.
- Weak security: Since remote workers don’t have the same security measures as their employers, they’re often the target of cybercrime. Attackers can use them to gain access to more valuable systems.
- Attack surfaces: Many people have a range of connected smart devices in their homes that act as attack surfaces. Securing all of them to an adequate standard, without assistance, can be challenging or even borderline impossible.
The skills gap
The popularity of remote work and the accompanying increase in the number of new vulnerabilities it presents, makes it an attractive avenue for cybercriminals. Businesses must understand how telecommuting challenges put their workplace at risk.
They may face regulatory fines or lose proprietary information if an attacker accesses sensitive data. In addition, cybercrime may impact their essential operations. Malware, distributed denial-of-service attacks, and data breaches can cause extensive downtime.
Cyberattacks are often expensive. The global average total cost of a data breach in 2022 was $4.35 million, according to IBM’s annual report.
Since many people have switched to remote work, adapting to its unique cyber security challenges is essential. Although it presents significant risks, businesses can train employees to mitigate potential threats.
How to train employees effectively
Businesses can support their employees by consistently emphasising the importance of online safety, establishing a strong cyber security culture, and implementing training methods designed for a remote workforce.
1. Frequent Reminders
People often need refreshers on standard online safety practices as even minor mistakes can lead to malware installations or data breaches. In the 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon, it detailed that the human element accounts for around 74% of cyber security breaches, this includes social engineering attacks, errors or misuse.
Frequent reminders can be beneficial since they enhance employees’ basic knowledge. They’re also one of the best ways to create a culture of cyber security. Employers should send regular messages to every remote worker, such as a biweekly newsletter listing current security threats and how to mitigate them.
2. Routine Training
If a business properly educates employees on the unique risks of remote work, it will minimise the number of security incidents. Employees will better recognise potential threats and avoid them if they know what to look for.
It’s difficult to retain complex technical information permanently, so employees need systematic instruction. Also, security threats frequently change, so having an information session or hands-on learning once a month could help prepare them.
3. Policy Updates
Employees without adequate guidance can make expensive mistakes, with Microsoft’s Security analysis finding that insider threats and simple mishaps can cost businesses an average of $7.5 million a year. Policy updates are one of an organisation's most effective measures to mitigate this issue.
Enforcing effective cyber security protocols for a large remote workforce requires consistent, clear, and extensive rules. Businesses should ensure everyone is aware of current security expectations. In addition, they must establish appropriate consequences for noncompliance.
These policies can address most concerns. For example, they could restrict work to company devices, require home network encryption or enforce mandatory online safety meetings. These actions can significantly contribute to the business’s overall security.
4. Response Plans
While employers can minimise the chance of a cyberattack, there’s no guarantee of complete success. As a result, every remote worker should be aware of appropriate incident response plans. How they react when a cyber security incident occurs determines the extent of its impact.
Employers should train them to recognise indicators of compromise. Essentially, they’re signs of hostile network activity that reveal the best response. Practical training relies on a genuine understanding of how cyberattacks occur and how to treat them.
Enhancing remote work security
These steps are essential in the digital age, as telecommuting becomes standard and the financial and reputational risk of cyber-attacks increases.
Remote workforces do face unique cyber security challenges, but employers can help them to learn how to recognise and mitigate potential threats.