Employees nationwide are preparing to return to the office as businesses work towards reopening. Conversely, lingering uncertainty is keeping some remote teams at home. Many are also choosing to extend their telecommuting arrangements into the foreseeable future, while others are deliberating permanent off-site positions.
- Facebook is allowing staff to work from home indefinitely
- Twitter employees can choose whether or not to go back
- Slack has committed to hiring more remote positions
- Shopify is now ‘digital by default’
Unlike these industry giants, smaller organisations that are rapidly shifting to remote work often lack the time and resources required to mitigate the associated cybersecurity threats. This is one of the greatest challenges accompanying the transition, as businesses must understand and address the subsequent changes to their digital risk profile.
The number and variety of cyberattacks have risen considerably over the past few months, thanks in part to teleworkers switching to unsecured home and public networks. It’s vital that effective strategies, training, and procedures are implemented to protect both employee privacy and sensitive company data.
Table of Contents
Understanding IP Addresses
Let’s begin with an integral part of the infrastructure that enables access to business networks from home.
Whether an external employee is downloading company files or checking their email, they are identifiable by their IP (Internet Protocol) address. You’re probably familiar with how they look. Here’s an example: 188.8.131.52.
So, what is an IP address and why is it important? Put simply, an IP address is a unique combination of numbers that are linked to specific devices and allows them to use the web. Hackers can leverage your IP address to accomplish several tasks. This includes revealing your location and downloading illegal content.
What matters most is that criminals can directly target your network and initiate a range of assaults. One of the most popular is called a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. These aim to overwhelm your connection and render it unusable, leading to costly losses in productivity among remote working teams.
Types of IP Addresses
Knowing the above, we can take a closer look at the basics of an IP address and its types. Then we’ll learn how to secure IP addresss on a network.
The internet needs a way to differentiate between individual devices, routers, and websites. This is the primary purpose of an IP address, which is represented by a string of numerical values separated by periods. Most IP addresses have the same key characteristics:
- Four sets of numbers
- Two or three digits in each set
- Every digit falling between 0 and 255
Households utilise two types of IP addresses, namely public and private. The former refers to the main address that identifies your network and is assigned to your router by an internet service provider. The latter helps your router and devices recognise each other. Everything from computers to smart speakers has its own private IP address.
Public (business) networks comprise two IP address varieties as well. The first is static addresses, which are rarely used outside of server hosting as their numerical values don’t change. On the other hand, dynamic IP addresses automatically change on a regular basis. This enhances security as it’s more difficult for hackers to breach the network.
Granted, there are some potential considerations. For instance, do you need a static IP address for security cameras? This is commonly asked by companies that link their surveillance equipment to a network with dynamic IP addresses. When the cameras are taken in for repairs or out of the office for home use, they fail to connect.
The problem usually stems from the new network’s static IP address and consequent firewall enhancements. A potential workaround involves unlocking parts of the router through a process known as port forwarding. You can also use proxy servers to create alternate connection paths.
IP Address Tracking
We’re almost ready to find out how to secure an IP address. But wait – is it legal to track an IP address?
It’s easy to answer in the affirmative. After all, you simply need to visit an online who is it IP address locator to confirm that just about any website can identify your IP address through your web browser. The practise is standard in digital marketing, helping advertisers serve more relevant ads based on your location.
When visiting a website, your network sends an information packet containing, among other details, your IP address. This allows the host server to determine who’s asking for access and how to respond. In most cases, the tracking stops here. Businesses that want to track IP addresses and locations can do so legally in accordance with GDPR regulations.
However, there are certain ethics and practices that need to be followed in the process. This includes opting for reputable tracking software and having all the necessary documentation.
How to Secure an IP Address
You may be wondering: how do I secure my IP address? Companies with remote teams are particularly concerned with the question of how to secure my IP address from hackers – and rightfully so. We mentioned earlier that the home and public networks used by remote employees are increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks.
Telecommuting staff can fortify their IP addresses by:
- Utilising Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to hide their connection details
- Enabling privacy features on messaging and conferencing applications
- Changing default router passwords to new credentials
- Setting firewall rules to deny incoming requests
- Installing and updating antivirus software
On the business side, consider investing in an IPS security address or Intrusion Prevention System. It works with your firewall, providing additional traffic analysis that detects and eliminates vulnerability exploits. An IPS typically forms part of UTM (Unified Threat Management) packages that are geared towards small and medium-size organisations.
That just about covers IP addresses. Also, the key to remote cybersecurity is access control methods for protecting IT systems. These minimise opportunities for threats to reach internal systems from external networks and devices such as those used by off-site staff. Before we go further, let’s briefly discuss telecommuting and its benefits.
The simplest telecommute meaning is that it’s an employment arrangement where work is performed outside of the office or traditional business premises. This doesn’t necessarily mean home. Any location, be it nearby coffee shops or overseas holiday resorts, can host off-site operations.
Naturally, there are some prerequisites, such as the right devices, software, internet connectivity, and a comfortable environment. Recent technological advancements have enabled countless industries and positions to join the list of those where telecommuting is possible. This includes:
- Customer service
Almost the entire economy was pushed towards telecommuting in the face of coronavirus and subsequent lockdown rulings. While not without its challenges, the shift proved beneficial to both employees and businesses, which often observed improvements in areas like productivity and cost savings.
Read on to learn more about the advantages of telecommuting.
Telecommuting Pros and Cons
Organisations have ample reason to consider moving relevant teams into telecommuting scenarios. For instance, remote workers report higher job satisfaction. This can be owed to many factors. Perhaps it was gaining back the hours previously lost in morning traffic. Maybe it’s the reduction in distractions and an increase in focus.
Either way, happier employees translate to higher retention. The perks don’t end there. Telecommuting can offer:
- Better work-life balance
- More flexibility and freedom
- Reduced expenses for staff
- Operational cost savings
- Lower carbon footprint
Alongside the benefits of telecommuting, there are also some potential drawbacks that should be identified and dealt with effectively in order to sustain operations. We know that security is one of them.
In a similar vein, businesses and off-site staff must be equipped with the right technology, which can be expensive to acquire, maintain, and upgrade. There are numerous ways around this challenge. For instance, managed IT services can provide the necessary technological infrastructure and support at affordable rates.
The lack of face-to-face communication has negatively affected some remote workers. Mental health is therefore a top priority and social activities should be prominent in telecommuting arrangements. Finally, the difficulty of supervising off-site employees calls for new methods and protocols to stay on top of projects.
Remote Work vs Telecommuting
While the terms are generally considered synonymous and often used interchangeably, remote work and telecommuting aren’t identical. The following remote work vs telecommuting comparison can help to clarify the difference.
- Is free from regional and time zone restrictions
- Doesn’t require office visits or attendance to in-person activities
- May involve collaborating with team members who are located overseas
- Positions tend to target candidates in specific areas
- Usually requires being available for in-person activities
- Teams are located close enough to have regular meetings
Now that we have a better understanding of telecommuting, it’s time to start learning about IT access control and what it entails. This is paramount to developing a comprehensive cybersecurity frontline that protects off-site workers and the on-site networks they’re connected to.
Protecting IT Systems With Access Control
So, why is it important to control data access? Let’s take a look at exactly what is access control system how it works.
Whether personal or provided by the company, remote employees use hardware such as laptops and smartphones to clock in from home or elsewhere beyond the office. These devices are difficult to manage and secure. Plus, they connect over home and public networks to acquire or send company data, adding another vulnerability into the picture.
But even if every computer and router is secured to the brim, other common risks such as phishing attacks and human error remain a threat to internal servers and sensitive data. A well-formulated IT access control policy comprises several protocols that, when enacted, mitigate these risks by regulating traffic between remote and local systems.
Your IT security access control policy may outline expectations for using approved email applications, antivirus software update schedules, and remote data wiping procedures for lost hardware. Here are a few more guidelines:
If you’re able to supply remote teams with laptops, go for it. This is the best way to secure devices as your IT department can configure settings and install security software themselves.
Employees should follow back-up routines to keep company data safe and encrypted on physical hard drives or cloud storage services. Your crucial files will remain accessible in the event of theft, natural disaster or other data loss.
After taking inventory of all your third-party connections, vendors can be monitored to reveal any malicious activity or agreement violations. Policies are reformed and privileges revoked when one of them poses a potential threat.
You can establish an SLA (Service-Level Agreement) to force compliance with your cybersecurity policies. Vendors that don’t adhere will face penalties.
Lastly, shared accounts can be forbidden to decrease the risk of unauthorised access.
Remote Access Control Strategies
An operative cybersecurity policy only provides the framework for effective access control among remote teams. This section details some additional best practices for secure remote access.
When telecommuting, employees can access their work through one of three methods:
- Direct application access
- Remote computer access
- Virtual private networks
Each approach has unique benefits and drawbacks. Direct application access is generally considered the safest option, as it involves connecting through an individual program instead of exposing the entire network. Remote computer access, such as desktop sharing, essentially turns off-site devices into portals that can control on-site devices.
While convenient, desktop sharing carries a high risk due to the creation of an additional entry point. The virtual private network (VPN) method uses tunnelling protocols to encrypt data when it’s transmitted. To enter internal networks, remote staff use specialised VPN clients to connect to their company’s VPN gateway after authenticating.
No less important to access control is encryption. It’s the process of converting legible information into code or ciphertext that can only be turned back into usable data with a specific key or cipher. Encryption provides an added layer of protection for telecommuting staff and organisations. Remember the following practices:
- Look for software that follows Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
- Choose communication tools with end-to-end encryption
- Encrypt files when performing back-ups
Many cyber attacks involve the use of stolen credentials, making password management solutions a must for remote work security. These tools can create and retrieve complex character combinations that are stored in an encrypted database. Leveraging such features may eliminate identical or similar credentials among off-site staff.
Password management solutions are also capable of automatically changing login details at certain intervals. Another strategy is to create single-use credentials on a spreadsheet that acts as a vault for one-time passwords. Needless to say, multi-factor authentication should be part of your access control procedures as well.
Just as vendor privileges can be limited, so can those of your remote workers. Network security privileges are ordered into super users, standard users, and guest users. Known as administrator accounts in Windows and root accounts in Linux, the first type of user has full access to system functions and features.
The second type is recommended for employees and is more restricted. It’s wise to reserve higher privileges for trusted members of your IT department and to only allow access when absolutely necessary. In doing so, you will practice the principle of least privilege, which aims to eliminate the risk of data breaches by limiting functionality.
Don’t forget about orphaned accounts. These are old profiles, typically left behind by former employees, that may contain sensitive data such as credentials and emails. Hackers can infiltrate them to gain administrative access and wreak havoc on your network. Privileged access management solutions are an ideal way to combat this threat.
No matter how powerful your security software and procedures are, it can all be rendered useless by nothing more than an uninformed or negligent employee. In fact, this was the very cause of more than one-third of data breaches in 2019. Therefore, it’s vital that you foster a strong remote cybersecurity culture through proper education and training.
Start with the basics. You may need to cover physical security, such as locking computers when travelling and not leaving laptops unattended in public areas. If private data is printed, for instance, then make sure that those papers are shredded instead of merely being thrown away. Training modules may also cover:
- Safe browsing guidelines for internet use
- Rules for using home and public networks
- Identifying phishing attempts and other types of social engineering
- Specifying which programs and features are permitted on company devices
The practices and strategies we mentioned above can’t always be carried out internally. For many businesses in London, IT service management (delivered by technical experts from third parties) was responsible for supporting their transition to remote work arrangements. That’s why we’re going to end with a closer look at managed IT services.
Managed IT Services
Managed Service Providers (MSPs) such as IT support companies generally comprise a remote team of specialists with various roles. The need for this kind of external assistance became painfully clear when organisations hastily moved employees off-site and realised that establishing efficient and secure home offices wasn’t simple.
Before we delve into how managed IT service providers can support remote work requirements, let’s discuss the overall range of solutions that you can expect from them. In the realm of security alone, there are services including:
- Data backup performance and monitoring
- Network security audits and recommendations
- Central security management for desktop and mobile devices
- Deployment of additional Microsoft 365 security features
- Implementation of Google workspace solutions to enhance protection
- Policy creation and support
- Full disk encryption
These are only some of the solutions that an established IT service delivery manager can provide. Plus, they may come over and above a dedicated team that monitors, analyses, and defends your systems around the clock. In addition to security, an IT support company can offer services along the lines of:
- IT consultancy and strategic advice
- Data and email migrations across platforms
- Assistance with purchasing and maintaining hardware
- Cloud service deployment and support
- Internet and telephony solutions
- Certified network cabling
Some managed IT services London providers can even assist when you’re moving offices. These solutions often cover all aspects of the move, from project management to engineer labour to supplier communications and beyond.
Now, what about remote working? How can an IT support company meet your telecommuting requirements? The next section details some common issues that managed IT service providers can address with regards to off-site teams.
IT Support for Remote Working
Remember the methods for accessing remote systems? Virtual private networks were one of them, serving as an essential tool for enabling safe connections to company servers. Managed IT service providers can fill the inherent expertise gap surrounding VPN technologies and install, configure, secure, and maintain VPN clients.
Effective communication and collaboration are just as crucial to telecommuting success as security, and it’s founded on the right tools. Remote workers must be equipped with capable hardware and software for tasks such as video conferencing. An IT support company can help by installing and configuring these technologies.
Another essential component of telecommuting is the cloud. When working from home, cloud-based platforms enable anytime/anywhere/any device access to numerous resources, including core applications and file storage. Managed IT service providers can offer expert guidance on selecting, deploying, and configuring cloud services.
From ensuring regulatory compliance to improving productivity, managed IT service providers have considerable benefits when used to support remote teams. What’s great is that their solutions are available to London businesses in a variety of industries. This includes architecture, charity, education, finance, property, and legal sectors.
Clearly, there are many reasons to invest in IT support as an organisation with telecommuting employees.
It will take some time, trial and error before your remote cybersecurity strategy is fully established. While the process certainly has its challenges, you can safely expect to see your efforts pay off in due course. Persistence and professional assistance are key to success.