Kayla Matthews
August 20, 2020

Is Working Remotely Risking Your Personal Data?

Working Remotely Can Put Your Personal Data At Risk

Editor’s note: The forced work-from-home cause by COVID-19 merely sped up a long term trend towards taking business out of the office. While not new for many, the challenges of working remotely caught a lot of people and companies flat-footed. most seriously, they weren’t prepared for the data security aspect of doing business work through home wifi.

This article addresses how business use can affect personal data – an aspect that has perhaps been largely overlooked

Many people who see headlines about data breaches perceive them as events that occur relatively rarely. Or worse, they think those breaches will never seriously affect them.

But they’ve allowed themselves a false sense of security!

Consider that a security organization registered 108 incidents in May 2020 alone, which collectively compromised more than 841,000 records. It’s also worth noting how this security group only monitors breaches happening in the USA. So the total number is Surely much higher worldwide.

Those statistics highlight how data breaches are not rare events, but ones that happen dozens of times per month. Something else to keep in mind is that more people have been working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working remotely could put people at a higher risk for personal data loss, but taking specific steps can reduce that likelihood.

Human Error Is a Significant Culprit

Data collected from a government authority in the United Kingdom found that user mistakes caused 90% of breaches reported to that office last year. People can make errors in any situation, but they may be more likely to during stressful or unfamiliar circumstances. The coronavirus checked both of those boxes. Taking proactive steps such as turning off unnecessary notifications and choosing the right workspace can increase productivity, however.

Many people found themselves completing work tasks at home for the first time. They often had to do so with fussy kids or attention-craving pets in the background. This tended to make some people feel flustered and less likely to concentrate on their work, even if they had the best intentions of buckling down and staying focused. And that could in turn make them more error-prone.

Employees Don’t Follow Safe Security Practices as Often at Home

Another risk of working at home is that people may lapse into less-secure behaviors and decisions. A 2020 report found that 48% of employees across organizations of all sizes admitted being less likely to adhere to safe internet security steps while in their houses.

A startling finding from the same document was that 91% of the IT leaders across organizations trust their employees to follow those best practices from home.

The trust is there, but not always warranted.

You may also want to read: If You’re Working From Home, You Need More Data Backups

Workers May Not Have Access to Quick Security Advice

When people work on-site, they can probably pick up the phone or walk to someone’s office if they have a data security question or problem. Those resources may not be as readily available when people are at home.

The increased distance between people working remotely and their on-call IT security team members may also pose issues. If a person thinks, “Well, I don’t want to bother them right now. I’ll just ask them later,” then they’re likely to forget.

Protecting Data When Working Remotely

Working from home could make employees more likely to experience data breaches. Such outcomes create lose-lose situations for everyone involved. From the company side of things, lost information could affect confidentiality and expose company secrets. Workers could have their identities stolen. And there are plenty of horror stories around what this can do to people’s lives.

The good news is that there are practical steps companies and their employees can take to curb the likelihood of lost data. Here are some smart ways to start:

1. Pursue Options to Automate Data-Driven Tasks

One of the positive aspects of so much information existing in the digital realm is that numerous tools can remove many of the manual steps required to process data. For example, it could take 20 days and 15 phases for an invoice to go through a full manual workflow.

It’s easy to see how the possibilities for mistakes go up when people do so many steps over time. Businesses should investigate which tasks people do while working remotely that could benefit from automated processes. They can start by getting feedback from employees about which responsibilities take the most time to accomplish or become highly fatiguing.

Automation does not entirely remove errors, but it typically boosts productivity and accuracy. Companies can also implement a process where humans review the steps that an automated program does to ensure everything looks as it should before the final approval.

You may also want to read: How to Effectively Work From Home During and After COVID-19

2. Use Multiple Methods to Back up Data

A data breach is not as potentially catastrophic when you have extra copies of the information backed up. Ransomware represents a widely used type of cybercrime where the perpetrators lock down an internet-connected device or entire network to prevent victims from accessing their files. Recent research indicates that more than 11% of ransomware groups steal data rather than merely restricting access via encryption.

Using an external hard drive is an excellent way to back up data for peace of mind if things go wrong. There’s no harm in also backing up to the cloud.

The beauty of an external hard drive is that someone can keep it plugged into a USB port and see that it’s saving data every hour or within another specified time frame. Cloud services don’t always offer that kind of visibility. An external hard drive could also facilitate quickly retrieving the last version of a file that a worker accidentally deleted.

3. Provide Equipment and Education for Remote Data Protection

A June 2020 survey found that 53% of people polled use their personal computers while working from home. It also revealed that 61% of respondents did not receive employer-provided tools to keep those computers safe. Additionally, more than half did not receive guidelines for working with personal information while at home. This is despite a sizeable percentage of people working in roles that require them to handle such data regularly.

You probably have a well-defined set of protective measures to stop cyberattacks on your website. Keeping plug-ins updated and looking at the daily traffic patterns are examples of steps that work well. However, safeguarding against cybercrime also includes sufficiently equipping employees.

Consider providing them with laptops that have the necessary tools pre-installed. You can also create checklists that help them get in the habit of good security practices at home.

4. Encourage People to Think Before They Act

Cybercriminals work hard to figure out the best ways to fool people and get them to take the desired actions. Many phishing attempts include urgent deadlines and scare tactics. The goal is to make victims so eager to fulfill senders’ requests that they don’t think through the consequences first or consider the possibility that something is wrong.

A cybercriminal might impersonate someone’s boss, saying that they must provide private details by the end of the business day to avoid missing out on the next pay period. These tactics often become the gateways for data breaches.

Remind remote workers that they should never provide details such as passwords or social security numbers via email. They should also not provide details to people who they don’t know well, who call them. Advise instead, that they make phone calls to the relevant people at their workplace to verify a request’s legitimacy before carrying it out.

You may also want to read: How to Protect Your Business From Cyber Crime

Data Security Is a Team Effort

It’s often easier for people to feel they are part of a team when they see their colleagues in person through the workweek. With so many more employees working from home now — and many set to do so for the foreseeable future — they may start to feel more isolated. If that mindset takes hold, they may forget how individual actions can still affect the business.

Companies can show that they are there for their workers by supporting them through their remote work. While doing so, they should emphasize how keeping data safe is a collective goal.

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Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a digital marketing and branding writer whose work has been featured on Contently, Convince and Convert, Inc.com and Marketing Dive. In the past, she's also been a staff writer for MakeUseOf and a regular contributor to The Next Web. To see more by Kayla, please visit ProductivityBytes.com