Mitigating Data Breach in a Remote Work Environment

Mitigating Data Breach in a Remote Work Environment

Mitigating Data Breach in a Remote Work Environment

Organizations offer work-from-home opportunities to their employees to attract diverse talent from different geographies while also reducing operational costs. Employees enjoy the work-life balance it brings to the table. Work-from-home opportunities are continuously on the rise, and a recent survey done by McKinsey & Company in 2023 showcases that 90% of companies offer hybrid and remote work to their employees. This increase in remote work leads to data security challenges for the organization that cannot be ignored.

Office-based employees’ data usage, access, and storage are monitored regularly, while this may not be the case for remote staff. Failure to manage, share, or destroy confidential data securely can compromise security, leading to a data breach episode. This sensitive information may entail social security numbers, email addresses, financial details, and health records, among other related information about an individual. Compromise of such sensitive information could hurt the organization. Laws regarding data management, disposal, and security are becoming stringent. The data protection laws enforce heavy penalties for violation and compromise of sensitive information. For example, EU-GDPR violation may result in a fine of up to €20 million or 4% of the annual turnover of the previous financial year.

Why is a Data Breach – A Nightmare for the Organizations

The global average cost of a data breach, as per IBM in 2023, was $4.45 million, a 15% increase over three years. Among the 27 key factors, such as non-compliance with regulations, security system complexity, and lack of skilled security personnel, which amplified the cost of a data breach, the remote workforce also played a substantial role. Out of all the organizations that faced a data breach, 20% had to pay USD 250,000 or more in regulatory fines.

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Evidently, the effects of a data breach on an organization can be negative in the long term and create convoluted setbacks for your business. In addition to legal consequences, a data breach can cause operational downtime, business loss, and reputation damage. Cisco’s Data Privacy Benchmark Study 2024 uncovered that “privacy has become a critical element and enabler of customer trust, with 94% of organizations saying their customers would not buy from them if they did not protect data properly.”

How Can Data Breaches Occur in a Remote Environment?

The results of the 2023 online survey by research expert Alexandra Borgeaud state that “72 percent of global respondents indicated being very concerned or somewhat concerned about the online security risks of employees working remotely.” 

Many factors can contribute to a data breach in a remote environment, such as failure to use a VPN, keeping security patches and bug fixes up-to-date, installing firewalls, and updating virus scanners. Not using a VPN exposes data to potential interception, outdated software can be exploited through known vulnerabilities, a firewall can leave networks open to unauthorized access, and lacking virus scanners can allow malware to infect systems. Let’s see how each leads to a data breach episode.

  1. Neglecting Data Security Protocols: Working from public locations on personal devices and using unsecured networks to access, modify, share, and store business-sensitive data is a significant security risk. When regular software updates are disabled, the chances of missing necessary security patches and bug fixes increase, making data more susceptible to attacks. Remote work makes it tough to adhere to all these secure conditions.
  2. Unsecure Chain of Custody: If sensitive information stored on the devices of a remote employee gets leaked, identifying the cause and the culprit is a difficult task. This problem gets more complex when a remote employee departs, switches jobs, upgrades their system, or the organization lays off multiple employees. The sensitive data stored on their devices is at risk of being breached if the device is sent back to the office as a part of the relieving process. There is a high risk of data getting lost or stolen while the device is being transported & it is likely to result in a data breach case due to chain of custody risks.
  3. Human Error: As per the IBM 2023 Cost of Data Breach Report, 74% of all breaches included the human element. With the WFH employees, organizations tend to be lenient about security policies, practices, and audits with respect to strong passwords, failing to update software, ignoring security warnings, not using MFA (Multi-factor authentication), or encrypting data, thereby making mistakes that may jeopardize sensitive information.
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Ways to Mitigate Data Breach Risks in Remote Work Environments

To reduce data security risks and prevent the occurrence of data breaches, the following is suggested:

  1. Data Security Policy Implementation: Organizations should focus on defining data security practices w.r.t remote work. Employees should be required to use a VPN for secure encrypted data transmission. Apart from that, each time an attempt is made to get access, a user must undergo a robust authentication process.
  2. Employee Training: Human error can be avoided by following regular training on data security best practices. Periodic virtual sessions should be conducted to train them to create and maintain strong passwords, identify phishing emails, and prioritize data security measures. Apart from this, it is important to train employees about the organization’s data destruction policies, procedures, and tools. Employees should be encouraged to cooperate with the IT and security teams as required to ensure that data security is effective.
  3. Data Disposal: Outside of the workplace premises, disposal of data in a remote setup becomes a sidelined step. However, it is essential that a standard, certified, secure, and remote wiping software be deployed to wipe all the IT assets used by remote employees when they leave the company, the project ends, or the device is upgraded. Every bit of sensitive data no longer in use needs to be permanently wiped remotely to keep critical information away from the risk of a breach or a leakage.

Professional data wiping tools like BitRaser come in handy in the event of data erasure. It can wipe data from IT assets, including drives and devices, be it onsite, offsite, or remotely. The software generates a Certificate of Destruction (CoD) that serves as an audit trail in mitigating data breach risks.

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Key Learning

To enhance data security in remote work environments, robust measures must be implemented. These include the use of VPNs, stringent multi-factor authentication, and secure data disposal practices. Regular training for employees on data protection and prevention of human errors is essential. Establishing clear data security policies tailored to remote work is crucial, as is the use of certified data wiping tools to ensure safe data erasure and compliance with audit standards. These steps minimize the risk of sensitive information being compromised, thus preventing data breaches.


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