As the world continues to adjust to remote work in the wake of COVID-19, many business owners may be feeling overwhelmed — and justifiably so. There is a lot to transfer from a physical office space to home. This can include anything from organizational memos and client briefings to website management. It’s a lot of work to accomplish and even more data to protect.

Therefore, it’s vital to prioritize the protection of your IT network. Your employees work from the safety of their own homes. However, your IT systems may be vulnerable to cyber attacks and data breaches. This can have negative financial implications for any business. For small businesses in vulnerable times, this can be especially hard hitting during remote work.

Preventative Measures For Protecting Data

The famous saying is true — prevention is better than cure. Here are some simple ways to quickly establish your IT security campaign:

1. Conduct a risk assessment.

Identify questions for your business’s remote work set up.

Who has access to the work laptop when an employee works at home? Do they lock it? Are the passwords adequate for the device? What are the rules for the transfer of data between remote working locations? What is the protocol if the work laptop is lost or damaged?

2. Identify a VPN protocol.

The use of VPN is essential to ensure the security of your organization when you are connected to WiFi. This is true whether you connect in a public or personal space.

Using a secure VPN makes it very difficult for cybercriminals to infiltrate a laptop. In addition, it is also essential to do a few test runs. This ensures you have a strong enough infrastructure to support the remote work of your entire staff.

3. Train your employees on best practices.

All employees should be aware of the best practices of Internet usage. They should also be trained in understanding the vulnerabilities of email.

Refer to company policies. These provide guidance on the types of communications that should and shouldn’t be sent. For example, some policies may cover guidelines for encrypting any passwords and ensuring they are emailed separately to usernames.

4. Protect passwords.

Ensure your devices have long, specific passwords. These passwords must include multi-characters, two-step authentication processesand differing passwords for each login and system. It’s important to make it as hard as possible for hackers to access your files!

5. Beware of phishing emails — and ensure your employees are aware of them, too

High profile global issues and crises are perfect opportunities for hackers to infiltrate systems. Using themes, like the coronavirus and COVID-19, for phishing emails or other predatory techniques is highly prevalent.

If you receive these types of emails, do not open them or download any attachments. Contact a member of the IT team to alert them as to what is happening.

6. Set a policy for removable devices.

A USB port is an easy way of introducing malware to an organization’s network. Therefore, all non-company issued USBs should be checked prior to use in a remote work computer.

In addition, whether it’s a personal or work issued USB, do not store sensitive company data on a removable device. It can be lost or stolen and easily shared.

Tips For Data Security Maintenance

Your time and financial resources may be limited as a small business owner. However, it’s important to be resourceful when protecting your business. According to research published in 2019 by Apricorn, one-third of IT decision makers admitted their organizations had suffered a data breach as a result of remote work.

While this statistic is particularly shocking, there is a solution. There are maintenance procedures you can ingrain into your routines. These procedures will ensure the security of your systems and data.

1. Write an e-shot for your employees.

Make sure your employees are following data maintenance protocol with information broadcasts. For example, you may ask them to complete the following initiatives:

  • Install antivirus software (if this is not already provided)
  • Regularly install software updates
  • Backup all data to a secure, cloud-based system every evening
  • Lock their laptop each evening to ensure data security
  • Store their devices in a locked drawer to keep physical devices protected.

An e-shot is a great way to quickly update your employees on the correct procedures for maintaining data and IT system protection. You may write e-shots on a daily or weekly basis. You can even set these tasks as routine to-dos in project management lists.

2. Inform employees of the latest phishing emails and scams.

Hackers are, unfortunately, taking advantage of remote workers. They’re even attempting to influence those looking to find a job by targeting communications specifically to this audience.

Emails may look like they are from the CDC providing updated lists of local cases of COVID-19. It is important your employees are aware of these emails and are vigilant against them, as some may have very convincing domain names and trick even the tech-savviest of workers.

3. Protect your VPN and make sure it’s safe.

A VPN, also known as a virtual private network, allows you and your employees to access the Internet. This is done in a safe, secure way by encrypting your data. If you opt to use a VPN, it’s important to choose your service wisely. Think twice about using a free service.

Why? It may be tempting as a small business with limited resources to use a free service. However, it’s important to note that VPNs require expensive infrastructures. It may be the sale of your data that covers this cost. Those wishing to reap and sell your data have even set up free VPNs. They may even redirect criminal activity back to users’ IP addresses. As such, it’s important to research the best platform for your organization and its needs.

Remote Data Loss: What Happens Next?

As your business migrates to remote work, it’s important for your employees to protect the digital and physical side of your business. Being around pets and small children could make you and your employees’ devices vulnerable to spillages and breakages. A lack of protected workspace may make hardware prone to more wear and tear than usual. Whether it’s spilled coffee, sticky fingers, or a pet’s overeager chewing, data recovery is possible provided the correct steps are followed.

There are several dos and don’ts to follow in the event of data loss. Do top what you’re doing. Make notes of the event and any following consequences, such as burning or sparking. Don’t panic. Do not try to experiment with DIY fixes or keep using your device.

Instead, consider these options:

1. Download reputable data recovery software.

There is a wide range of safe-to-use data recovery tools available to download from the Internet. However, make sure to research them so you know which suits your situation best. Some packages also come with free trials for you to test before committing to a paid service.

2. Use a remote data recovery service.

Some companies, like Ontrack, offer remote data recovery services for drives that aren’t physically damaged. This enables a data recovery engineer to remotely recover your data. You don’t have to leave your house or interact with anyone face-to-face.

For example, let’s say you have an employee based in Japan that has accidentally erased over 1,500 documents. You’d be able to get help for that. There are patented technologies available. These enable engineers to perform lab-quality data recovery over a secure, read-only Internet connection to customers who need it.

Remote Work Protection

As a small business owner, it’s important to adapt to a remote working structure. This enables you to keep afloat. A part of this will be putting preventative measures in place and establishing routine maintenance to avoid data breaches and data loss.

However, if a breach or loss does occur, rest assured there are solutions out there. In conclusion, they will help fix everything and get you back up and running.

Lynn Walker is the VP of Global Marketing at Ontrack, the world’s leading data recovery specialists. She has also managed and lead dynamic marketing teams for 10 years. In addition, Lynn manages teams from almost every continent at Ontrack. She shares her wisdom on how to protect your business while working remotely.

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