Remote workforces aren’t the future anymore—they are our present.
A majority of the businesses are operating with a dispersed workforce in different time zones and with little to no office space. Being online and on the cloud is the new way to work. But all these changes have also led to data security becoming a rising concern.
Recent data breaches indicate no business is safe, regardless of its type, size, and location. Nevertheless, most cyberattacks can be blamed on a single recurring theme: outdated or insufficient security equipment and settings.
In this Nira guide, we’ll outline a step-by-step guide to help you defend your remote business from cyberattacks and boost your data security. We’ll also cover common challenges business owners face when doing this to help you prepare better for potential bottlenecks.
Let’s get to it!
Step 1: Conduct Periodic Cybersecurity Assessments or Audits
You cannot build an adequate defense strategy if you don’t fully understand your current network security structure. It’s an impossible task.
What you need here are periodic cybersecurity assessments that highlight and amplify your network security strengths in your system and identify any weaknesses you can improve.
These cybersecurity audits are designed to give you a clear idea of the steps to take to secure your environment. You can prioritize your resources effectively, which, in turn, will save you from spending your valuable time and money on wasted efforts.
We recommend taking a traditional gap analysis, followed by a cybersecurity assessment. Once these two are checked off your list, apply a risk management approach for even better security outcomes.
It is up to your business how often you conduct these audits. However, experts recommend running a routine audit more frequently, even monthly. If you run an enterprise-level business with a lot of confidential or sensitive information, you may want to run a more in-depth audit at least quarterly. Experts are clear on one thing: you should be doing them at a minimum twice per year.
If you need to run a special audit due to a potential data breach, that will be on an as-needed basis and not scheduled in advance.
Step 2: Encrypt and Back Up All Your Data
Preventing physical access to critical data and rendering the data useless if it ever gets into the wrong hands are the two most crucial elements of an effective cybercrime protection strategy.
It’s why data encryption and data backup are so important for data security.
Encrypting data will make it useless for hackers if they somehow manage to get access to your system. The researchers in the International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications hail data encryption as the “most efficient fix” for data breaches, should they occur.
The good news is most operating systems today offer built-in full disk encryption software, so all your data on a laptop or a computer desktop will get auto encrypted when at rest. Make sure this software is activated and updated on all company devices to ensure maximum protection.
Step 3: Secure All Your Sensitive Data
Data breaches are expensive. But if hackers successfully compromise your sensitive data, it may turn out to be a financial catastrophe. Understandably, your first priority here should be to secure all your sensitive assets.
The speed at which you can prevent cybersecurity attacks and restore data greatly influences your business’s longevity. If ransomware manages to wreak havoc in your system, hackers could attack your backup software, which will corrupt all your backup files. What makes matters worse is this can happen even if you have robust security measures in place.
You must take extra precautions to protect your business’s sensitive data. Encryption and data masking can be excellent measures to boost your data security.
Naturally, encrypting all your sensitive assets, including employee and customer information and other sensitive business data, is a no-brainer.
Step 4: Educate Your Employees About Cybersecurity Best Practices
Your employees are your organization’s first line of defense against malicious hackers. Therefore, you must educate them about cybersecurity best practices that will help enhance your cybersecurity efforts. Make raising awareness about the risks and mitigation steps your top priority.
Here’s a list of ways your employees can contribute towards protecting your data:
- Keep all software up to date. Software developers are constantly updating applications to add protections against the latest known threats and vulnerabilities. When you regularly update and patch all your software applications, you improve your chances of protecting company assets.
- Immediately identify and report any suspicious activity. Hackers often target employees by sending them emails and website links from unknown sources. Upon clicking these shady links, employees unwittingly fall prey to sophisticated phishing attacks or other types of cyberattacks. You must help your employees recognize these risks and tell them the mitigation steps to prevent unauthorized access to company data. This takes training, as it is not always obvious what emails are scams.
- Use strong passwords. With more workforces going remote, employees are blurring the line between personal and professional computer usage. Many are using personal devices for work and are being neglectful about their passwords’ safekeeping. According to the Global State of Cybersecurity in Small and Medium-Sized Business report, 75% of SMBs reported their employees’ passwords had been lost or stolen in the past year. If you don’t want your organization to be a part of this statistic, encourage employees to be creative when setting passwords. Ask them to use numbers, special symbols, and letters—in both uppercase and lowercase—to make their passwords harder to crack.
- Enforce two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, significantly strengthens login security and reduces the risk of data theft for individuals and businesses. Passwords can be stolen or guessed, and some employees will use the same password across multiple accounts, tools, and devices. Having a secondary authentication method makes it less likely for malicious attackers to access your data. In this day and age, customers also expect 2FA and are more likely to trust businesses that have it in place.
Step 5: Get Cyber Insurance
Times have changed. Today, business owners have to adopt a mindset of preparing for a data breach rather than wondering whether their businesses will ever be targeted (or just hoping it won’t). In other words, instead of being an “if” situation, it’s become a “when” situation.
Keeping this in mind, business owners have started to buy insurance policies to mitigate business operations, ranging from workers’ compensation to general liability to errors and omissions.
However, some owners still overlook the importance of getting cyber insurance. This is very unwise, as the whole point of getting insurance is to secure funds that can help your company recover financial losses and pay for recovery steps, such as credit monitoring, attorney’s fees, data breach investigation, and more.
We recommend working with trusted providers who have proven experience in tailoring insurance policies to suit the insured’s specific needs. Don’t forget to review your cyber policies in detail to understand what types of attacks are included, the extent of business coverage continuity, and any exclusions.
Step 6: Get a Firewall on Your Network
A firewall can work wonders to block an attacker from getting access to your payment terminal.
A firewall is a security system that monitors and controls all incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules for those of you who aren’t aware. It can easily detect if any data is being stolen from the network. If it does notice anything out of the ordinary happening on your system, the firewall will automatically shut down the process.
A firewall also protects computers from malware and other online threats.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when buying a firewall solution:
- Many firewall solutions come with a built-in website filter that lets you create a blocklist of websites based on website names and categories. They’re also capable of performing spam-filtering.
- Get a firewall that can monitor SSL encrypt data.
- Opt for a firewall with a built-in antivirus. This is particularly important if you don’t have a separate antivirus program.
Step 7: Restrict Admin Rights and Monitor Staff Online Activities
Restricting admin rights to a select few staff members on an as-needed basis can considerably minimize the risk of getting hacked. In general, it is a good idea to be careful about setting permissions for all employees. Your company should create a permissions policy for employees at various levels and needs and restrict access to sensitive or confidential data to only those who need it.
Moreover, you should keep track of everything your employees do online. Discourage them from using public Wi-Fi on office devices and when they are done for the day, ask them to store their devices in a secure place. All hard drives or USB sticks must be scanned before use, too.
Step 8: Back Up All Assets Frequently
Regular backups are a proven way to protect your business against data loss. When you have all your backups securely stored, you can quickly recover in the event of a data breach or a cyberattack.
A proper data backup system can come in handy in the following scenarios:
- When your computer crashes randomly, causing you to lose days of data
- When a thief steals an employee’s laptop
- When your organization ends up being a victim of a virus attack
- When your hard drives and solid-state drives fail, causing you to lose all your data
What’s more, recovering from a backup hardly takes a few minutes, where all your data is stored in the original location. Most hosting providers let website owners configure cPanel backups for greater convenience.
Common Problems When Defending Your Remote Business from Cyber Attacks
Let’s review some of the most common problems business owners face when implementing a robust security plan for their business.
Problem #1: Possibility of Human Error
Often, employees don’t have adequate knowledge to keep data safe. They may click on the wrong link, open the wrong site, or make other mistakes that can seriously compromise your company’s assets.
While training them in cybersecurity best practices is a step forward, one cannot truly eliminate the possibility of human error. This becomes an even bigger problem if your IT department’s resources are already stretched thin. Unfortunately, it’s more likely for a team member to commit errors when they’re already under a lot of pressure.
Problem #2: Staying Within the Budget
SMB owners often have limited budgets, which means they can’t really splurge on hiring expert IT professionals. Also, since most business owners find it hard to visualize the financial return from their investment, they become even more stringent when it comes to investing in data and network security.
Businesses that are investing heavily into security end up cutting back IT expenditure in other areas. This creates extra pressure on the IT department, especially in smaller companies with fewer people making up the IT team.
However, with the EU introducing exorbitant fines for businesses that do not adequately protect their data and other countries likely not far behind, companies have no other option but to invest in security. But we still have a long way to go.
Problem #3: Handling Technological Challenges
Technology is changing rapidly. Businesses worldwide are using sophisticated software tools to automate daily functions and take full advantage of the convenience technology offers.
However, not all tools are easy to implement.
Out of these technologies, most businesses find it challenging to adopt cloud-based infrastructure. Cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud are increasingly used to store documents, but ensuring all the stored data stays safe from the prying eyes of hackers is still a challenge.
You’ll have to pay attention to proper cloud storage configuration, end-user actions on cloud devices, and APIs to strengthen the cloud computing defenses. Understanding these aspects takes time, but once your IT team gets the hang of things, you can rest easier when it comes to your data’s security.