Open shop

By Jon Fielding, managing director EMEA Apricorn

The sudden shift of an entire workforce from office to home is leaving many businesses reeling, and struggling to cope with the change. While some will already be set up to enable safe and productive remote working, they’ll almost certainly not be prepared to support it at such scale. This is likely to be a particular issue for start-ups, who were building systems and processes gradually as they grew, and juggling cybersecurity alongside many other priorities.

Working from home is certainly not a new concept – and many forward-looking businesses have long recognised the importance of mobile working in their strategy. Not only are the cost-savings readily apparent, but businesses also benefit from increased levels of productivity and flexibility. However, faced with this crisis situation where staff have been forced out of the office, many could find they don’t have the necessary processes in place to allow all employees to access data and systems securely.

Businesses must secure their corporate data as it moves beyond the confines of the office walls. This has to be done quickly, so the best approach is to stick to the basics, focusing on the three fundamentals of cybersecurity: policies, people, and technology.

The risk of leaving gaps in the company’s cyber defences are real: in a 2019 survey of IT decision makers carried out by Apricorn, 50% admitted they couldn’t guarantee their data was adequately secured when being used by remote workers. Add to this the fact that opportunistic hackers everywhere are looking to target any chinks businesses leave in their armour, and it’s absolutely vital to act now.

Review all your security policies and business processes

Updating those that cover mobile and remote working or creating new ones as appropriate. Clearly set out how employees are expected to behave when working at home, the best practice protocols they must apply, and the devices they’re allowed to use and how.

Build engagement

Communicate all policies and processes directly to your employees, via email or video, and give them the opportunity to ask questions. It will improve accountability if you also explain why certain requirements are in place, detailing the risks facing the businesses and the potential consequences of a data breach. Everyone must understand their specific role in keeping information and the business safe during this period.

Encrypt all data as standard

The risk of human error will always remain. Encrypting data when it’s being stored as well as on the move will lock it down, so even if it’s somehow exposed it will be unintelligible to anyone not authorised to access it. Encryption creates the all-important ‘last line of defence’ which will keep information safe whatever else is happening around it.

Secure the endpoint

Chances are that your workers will need to use a mix of business and personal devices in order to access data and systems and work efficiently. Businesses can facilitate this by rapidly rolling out a secure remote working environment that enables home workers to use their own IT equipment and devices as a trusted endpoint.

One way this can be done is through providing highly secure USBs that are pre-loaded with the corporate ‘desktop’, including all of the standard corporate applications, operating systems, configurations and security settings. Employees can then simply boot this up from the USB on whatever device they're using, and work within a safe environment that has the same approved settings and controls that they'd have in the office.

It’s very likely that this is the advent of a large and permanent move to home working for many businesses. Those experiencing it for the first time may well question why it isn’t a standard practice once this period ends. It might be hard for employers to put that particular lid back on. This is a strange and challenging time for us all – but it’s also a chance to get the foundations in place for a safer, more flexible and more productive working model – not just for now, but for a more sustained shift when things finally return to normal.