Remote work has always come with its share of concerns, but as countless businesses scrambled to set up work-from-home environments in response to the COVID-19 crisis, hackers and scammers (unsurprisingly) rushed to take advantage. The sheer number of businesses forced into a new and unfamiliar way of working, combined with the chaos that came along with the crisis, created fertile ground for criminals to prey upon unsuspecting business owners and their remote employees.

Although many employees have returned to their offices, some companies have discovered that offering the option of working from home can be an important perk, and can even reduce operating costs. Working from home is here to stay, but so is the ongoing risk of cyberattack. It's critical that businesses educate themselves on the necessary precautions to help avoid becoming victims of network breaches, ransomware attacks, and other cybercrimes.

Video conferencing threats

As numerous organizations rushed into remote working scenarios, use of video conferencing apps skyrocketed. Zoom®, in particular, received a great deal of media attention as it became a go-to for businesses, schools, churches, and families to conduct video meetings. Unfortunately, that particular company was not prepared for the massive influx of users that came from the coronavirus pandemic, and security and privacy issues were widely reported almost immediately.

A practice that has become known as "Zoom bombing" affected some users, with bad actors infiltrating meetings and making threats, posting obscene language or hate speech, and some even sharing indecent images with unsuspecting meeting participants. The guidance from Zoom’s headquarters1 is to make sure that if a meeting is public, the host is the only one who can share their screen. For meetings that are not open to the public, require a password to enter. Similar guidelines should be followed for other apps of this type.

General IT challenges of a remote workforce

Beyond the direct threats, managing a remote workforce from an information technology perspective can itself be challenging.Small business owners should have regular meetings with IT managers to discuss challenges and concerns, to ensure staff are following the correct protocols.

"Having a policy in place will let your employees know what they need to do and how to do it, but providing them with the right tools will also reduce the risks of working remotely," notes Russell Radzikowski at Securicy®.2 "Depending on your company and the role of your employees, these tools may vary."

Such tools may include: a VPN (so network traffic is encrypted), built-in encryption and firewalls on devices, and/or a password manager. Additionally, all operating systems and software should remain up to date to include the latest security patches. Screens should be locked when not in use if the device is being used out of the privacy of the home. Secure connections should always be maintained. The key is to help ensure employees are educated on dos and don'ts. The good news is that many threats can be thwarted with some employee education and the right policies and practices in place. If you are unsure of where to start or how to proceed, don't hesitate to contact an IT security consultant.

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