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Data Privacy and Protection in a Remote-Driven Business World

It used to be that having a remote workforce was a pipedream, but with the arrival of COVID-19, all of that changed seemingly in an instant. Due to recommended safety guidelines, including the need to socially distance, many companies were forced to send their employees home or risk losing their business.

However, while we thought it was seemingly a temporary solution, remote work is turning out better than many companies expected. Now, many industries, from retail to healthcare, are keeping their workforce remote, and they may continue doing so for the foreseeable future. With that said, remote work does have its share of challenges, including how management communicates with their teams and how they can stay productive. Security is also a concern, and below, we will talk about the importance of keeping systems protected and educating your staff when working from home.

Importance of Security

While many companies are happy to have their doors open thanks to the ability to transition to a remote workforce, computer hackers and cyber thieves are taking full advantage of the many security vulnerabilities created during this switch. In fact, cybercrime has increased by upwards of 63% since the pandemic began, and that is because hackers simply understand that systems are not as secure when taken out of the hands of the IT professionals at the office.

The risks associated with a data breach can be devastating for a company and could include major financial losses and damage to your corporate reputation that cannot be easily reversed. On top of that, some industries, such as the healthcare sector, are subject to additional regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and its associated privacy rule, which states that health companies need to put procedures in place to avoid the loss or unlawful sharing of patient health information. Failure to do so could result in serious fines.

In many cases, employee error can be a major vulnerability when it comes to cybercrime. However, it usually isn’t that employees are creating these risks on purpose. They are just not properly trained on the steps that must be taken. For this reason, management needs to create a culture of security and push the idea that everyone is responsible for the wellbeing of the organization. By having regular video conferences as a team and introducing training materials, you can reduce the threat of cybercrime even when you aren’t working in the same space.

Training Is Key

The first step to creating a culture of security is to educate all employees about common threats and how they can be avoided when working remotely. For instance, when new issues like COVID-19 occur, many hackers use it as an opportunity to send phishing emails that promise new information on vaccines or testing sites if the user clicks a link or opens an attachment. However, that click will open a door for the hacker to access the employee’s system. The IT team may not be able to catch all incoming phishing emails on remote computers, so you need to train your employees on the common signs of these malicious communications:

  • The subject and body of the email contain many misspellings.
  • An email from an “official” source, but it comes from a common provider like Gmail or Yahoo.
  • A general greeting, such as “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam.”

One of the most significant technologies to make an impact during this new remote revolution is the rise of telehealth, which is enabling those who are elderly or living in rural communities to get the healthcare they need from the privacy of their home. However, while video conferencing apps may be more secure than email, they can also be targets for hackers, and they can use the private information shared during the calls for malicious purposes. At a minimum, remind employees to use strong passwords and change them frequently so they cannot be guessed. Also, consider more secure conferencing software, such as Zoom for Healthcare.

Employees who have freedom from the office may also choose to work outside of the home and venture to a public place like a restaurant or coffee shop. However, management must train the staff on the dangers of unsecured Wi-Fi accounts and man-in-the-middle attacks, where a hacker sets up a fake account in the hope that you will carelessly connect and give them an open door to your device. To avoid the risk of this behavior, have IT encrypt all devices, and encourage your staff to ask an employee at the establishment for the correct network.

What Your Company Can Do

Due to the number of constant threats and potential repercussions to your business if you fall victim to cybercrime, management must stay up to date on cybersecurity threats and introduce policies and technology that will help keep your private data secure. As a start, you need to restrict access to sensitive programs and provide it only to the employees who need it regularly. If an employee leaves the organization, all of their credentials and program access should be deleted upon termination. Conduct a monthly audit of all employees and change all outdated access points.

Next, you need to add all employees to a virtual private network (VPN). This is a secure connection that encrypts all data going back and forth between customers, your remote employees, and the corporate office. Keep in mind that a VPN is only as secure as its software, so update the network whenever a new version is available.

If the folks at your organization simply do not have the time to give cybersecurity the attention it deserves, then look to new technology, specifically, on the cloud. When you move your business onto the cloud, your employees will have access to all the software and data they require without the need to be in a physical office. On top of that, cloud service companies also provide their own data privacy management solutions, with in-house teams that directly monitor your organization’s information and use their expertise to ensure your data remains secure while you focus on your business.

As we move forward during 2021, it looks as if the new norm of a remote workforce is here to stay. It can take some time to adjust, but by taking a close look at your data privacy protocols, you can make the transition a bit easier.

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Jori Hamiltonhttps://writerjorihamilton.contently.com/
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who enjoys covering topics related to social justice, the changing workplace, and technology.

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