Data is the foundation of everything meaningful in your business. It’s what drives your business forward; it’s what helps you stay ahead of the competition; it’s how you give the best service to your customers. It’s safe to say you don’t want that data getting into the wrong hands. But expanding your business internationally and growing a global, remote team can put you at risk of a data breach if you don’t have the right measures in place.
In this article, we’ll equip you with the knowledge you need to understand:
- How data breaches can affect your remote teams, company, and clients
- The measures you need to take to avoid a data breach
- How Omnipresent can help you build secure global teams.
Skip to our data breach prevention tips here.
How Can Data Breaches Affect Remote Teams?
Global expansion, international teams, and remote working are undeniably an important part of the future of work, but without proper planning and robust security measures, your company could fall victim to a data breach.
As businesses hastily closed their office doors at the beginning of the pandemic and many employees began working from home, some let cyber (and physical) security fall by the wayside.
With workers connecting to their home networks and public WiFi, security measures afforded by office networks, like firewalls and blacklisted IP addresses, were gone. Employers may have also felt a loss of control over business and personal mobile devices used to access company data.
The rise of cloud storage adoption and a lack of effective remote data protection policies have also exposed companies big and small to new and evolving security vulnerabilities.
What Are the Consequences of a Data Breach?
Falling victim to a data breach can have disastrous consequences for your business. The financial cost of a data breach alone is enough to make many business owners and IT professionals lose sleep, but leaks can also negatively affect brand reputation, client trust, and even employee retention and recruitment.
After all, a data breach doesn’t just affect your own company, but the businesses and personal lives of all involved too. In short, you should be doing everything you can to prevent one.
According to tech company IBM, the average total cost of a data breach increased by almost 10% from 2020 to 2021 - from $3.86 million to $4.24 million. Where remote work was a factor in causing the breach, the average total cost was $1.07 million higher than breaches where remote work wasn’t a factor.
When it comes to the remote work vs. office work debate, cyber security is clearly an important factor to consider. But the fears of data leaks shouldn’t prevent you from allowing your teams to work remotely or stop your internationalization efforts.
Instead, you should invest resources into effectively protecting data, no matter where your colleagues are based.
What Is a Data Breach?
A data breach - sometimes known as a cyber security breach, data leak, or data spill - occurs when sensitive, confidential, or protected information is accessed by an unauthorized person or persons, physically or digitally.
This data could include:
- Personal information such as names, addresses, medical histories, etc.
- Employee account passwords & credentials
- Client or target contact lists
- Company strategy documents
- Physical papers containing business plans & forecasts.
There are several types of data breaches, including phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, denial-of-service attacks, password attacks, malware attacks, and even non-malicious human error.
Human error is one of the most common causes of data breaches. It usually involves employees sending sensitive information to the wrong person, which is easily done when working remotely. Whether it’s accidentally CCing an unrelated party or attaching the wrong document to an email, this type of data breach can be extremely damaging to a business.
However, like every type of data breach, there are ways to mitigate risk and keep your business’ data safe. Learning about cyber security best practices is the best place to start.
Cyber Security Best Practices
Before we outline our detailed nine-step plan for preventing data breaches, here are the most important cyber security best practices every business should understand and implement:
- Hire or work with a cyber security specialist.
- Provide comprehensive training for all your team members throughout the employee lifecycle.
- Equip your teams with effective security software and ensure it’s kept up to date.
- Regularly back up data.
How to Prevent Data Breaches with Remote Workers
Staying in control of your data is vital, especially when it’s being accessed remotely from across the world. Preventing data breaches isn’t an easy job, but there are several ways you can help mitigate data leak risks for remote teams, whether it’s educating your staff or putting comprehensive policies in place.
Below, we outline the key steps you should take to help prevent data and cyber security breaches in remote teams.
1. Implement a Zero Trust Security Model
While trust is an essential part of building a remote, global team, it’s a Zero Trust security model that might help prevent your next data breach. A Zero Trust model implies that you shouldn’t trust devices, users, or systems by default, even if they’re already connected to a managed corporate network.
In practice, this means all users need to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validated before they’re given access to applications and data. Think of it as a form of digital due diligence: never trust, always verify.
In the following steps, we’ll explain the methods and tools you can use to do just that.
2. Focus on Endpoint Security
Endpoint security should be a priority for every company, but particularly for those that are going global.
Endpoint security refers to protecting end-user devices, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets that are used to access the company network or sensitive data. Malicious actors can exploit weaknesses in endpoint security to get hold of sensitive data, causing a breach. When your company endpoints are dotted around the world, keeping them watertight becomes more challenging.
For remote teams, endpoint security should go far beyond installing off-the-shelf anti-virus software. An effective endpoint security solution should also include a firewall, malware removal, ransomware protection, device management, password manager, and a business VPN.
3. Create and Update Data Security Procedures and Policies
Comprehensive data security procedures and policies let your employees know exactly what’s expected of them. If you don’t already have procedures and policies about information security in place, you should start to create and implement them immediately. If you already do have these policies, it’s likely they’ll need updating to account for new ways of working, like remote work or international hiring.
Your information security policies should include clear rules and guidelines about:
- Acceptable uses of company property (e.g., computers and company social media platforms)
- Remote access (where and how can staff access company data)
- Password creation, storage, and MFA usage
- Use of anti-virus and anti-malware software
- Installation of external software
- Sharing of sensitive information internally and externally
- Use of personal social media platforms in relation to the company
- Backing up information securely
- Response to potential data breaches.
4. Educate Your Team Members about Cyber (and Physical) Security
Providing comprehensive training and security awareness for your whole team goes a long way to prevent data leaks. After all, cyber security is the responsibility of every team member, from your CEO to your junior staff.
This education should start from onboarding and continue throughout the employee lifecycle at regular intervals. It should include practical training and explanations of relevant security policies.
If you don’t already have a dedicated IT team or a security specialist to own this education series, you should look to hire one or seek support from trusted security education providers.
5. Enable a Mobile Device Management (MDM) Solution
Endpoint security can be achieved much more easily by using a Mobile Device Management solution. This piece of software enables your IT team to control endpoints (i.e., company laptops, tablets, and cell phones) remotely.
With an effective MDM solution in place, your IT team can monitor, manage, and secure company-owned devices and implement key policies to help prevent data leaks.
MDM solutions empower IT professionals to set up devices prior to employee onboarding, ensuring that the correct software is installed and ready to go. They can also manage the applications being installed on the employee’s device moving forwards and remove anything that may pose a risk to the company’s information security.
MDM solutions can also help the company meet complex compliance standards, like those stipulated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), by ensuring data is stored on the device compliantly.
Mobile Device Management software is also useful for offboarding employees securely, as it gives you a means of effectively wiping sensitive data from devices when they leave the company.
6. Enforce Strong Credentials & Multi-factor Authentication
Passwords are virtual keys that grant access to your business’s most valuable data. Yet, according to IBM’s report, compromised credentials were responsible for 20% of breaches. That’s why passwords need to be strong and hard to guess. They should also be easy to remember for the authorized user (without the need to write them down). What’s more, each user account should have a unique password.
This can be challenging but using a secure password manager, like LastPass, ensures that your staff can create and safely store all their account credentials. The software itself can create extremely strong passwords, consisting of random strings of letters, numbers, and symbols, without your colleagues needing to remember them.
An extra measure you can take to keep important accounts secure is implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA). When MFA is enabled, a user has to provide more than one piece of evidence to prove they have the authority to access an account. Examples of MFA methods include:
- Push notifications
- One-time passwords
- SMS codes
- Biometric data (e.g., fingerprint)
- Physical authentication tokens
Multi-factor authentication, combined with strong passwords, makes it much harder for malicious actors to get hold of your data.
7. Use a VPN Solution
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software that encrypts data to help keep online information private and secure. This makes it harder for hackers to access confidential data.
VPNs are legally permissible in most jurisdictions and are especially useful for remote teams who need to access internal applications and company data when they aren’t able to connect to the company’s internal network.
VPNs give you extra peace of mind when your colleagues connect to potentially insecure networks in their homes or in public spaces.
8. Perform Regular Updates and Patches
Cyber attacks are becoming more and more advanced every day. That’s why you need to ensure your chosen security software is always up-to-date. Software updates can patch security flaws, remove bugs, and add new features.
Your IT team should ensure that critical software is set up to automatically update, so you don’t have to rely on each individual remembering to do so. This can be done through your Mobile Device Management solution.
9. Implement a Robust Offboarding Process
Offboarding a team member securely is as important as onboarding one. Your staff members have access to invaluable information, so it’s vital that you remove access as soon as a team member leaves the company.
While many employees leave without issue, the risk of a data leak isn’t worth skipping essential security procedures. On your colleague’s last day, you should:
- Update passwords to company accounts
- Revoke their access to company-related accounts
- Retrieve any company-owned assets, like keys, fobs, flash drives, laptops, cell phones, credit cards, etc.