Since the beginning of 2020, expectations around remote work have changed dramatically. Employees are increasingly looking for jobs with some level of ‘work from home’, while employers are investing in the technologies and company culture processes to make it happen.

Across the US, and the entire world, more businesses are embracing flexible schedules where employees can work either entirely from home, from the office, or a mix of both. Upwork estimates that by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87 percent increase from pre-pandemic levels.

While these flexible work options bring a huge range of benefits for both employee and employer, they also bring some challenges. Particularly around data protection.

What is data protection? 

Various legislations around the world set out rules and standards for the use and handling of personally identifiable information (PII). The way this data is stored and used is protected by legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

To comply with those regulations, organizations must ensure they are using, processing and protecting that data adequately so that only those required have access to it. 

That’s where data protection comes in. Data protection is a cybersecurity strategy that aims to protect a company’s data from unauthorized access and breaches, such as hacking, phishing or identity theft.

The process of data protection requires building an inventory of all company-wide data, and then fixing any emerging vulnerabilities to strengthen the organization’s overall security posture. These vulnerabilities could include anything from poor password hygiene to using insecure networks.

Why is remote work data protection so important? 

The rise of remote work has made data protection more complex. 

Employees are sending a rising amount of data across email, out-of-office WiFi networks are typically unsecured, there’s no way to ensure employees are doing all they can to protect data, and there’s more technology on your network as remote employees use laptops and other devices to access your servers - increasing the likelihood of data sprawl.

These are just a few of the many reasons why remote work has made data protection strategies so important, because companies are more vulnerable than they’ve ever been before.

In fact, Accenture reported in its ‘Ninth annual cost of cybercrime‘ study that almost three quarters of all business leaders feel their cybersecurity risks are increasing on a yearly basis. 

Remote work data protection best practices

Data protection is a broad strategy that includes a range of best practices from employee training, encryption, data management, authorized access, data backup and recovery plans, firewalls, data loss prevention and good network hygiene.

With that in mind, we’ve listed just a few key best practices to keep in mind when building a data protection strategy for remote employees. 

#1 - Know where your data lives

You can’t protect what you can’t see. That’s why it’s important that your business conducts a complete inventory of its data, to understand where it lives, what it’s being used for and who has access to it. Through the implementation of data discovery, your business will gain complete visibility into the data across your entire business, the risk it is posing, and the vulnerabilities it has. 

#2 - Use a VPN to secure your employee’s internet connection

Are your remote employees in the habit of working from public areas such as libraries, airports or coffee shops? Public WiFi are insecure networks and the devices connected to them are vulnerable to hackers. To protect against this, all of your remote workers should use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN routes an internet connection through a secure service, hiding the activity of your employees even when they work from public Wi-Fi connections.

#3 - Ensure good password hygiene 

Good password hygiene is the most important step in securing your organization’s data. Employees on the move should be reminded to update their password often, and to a specific standard defined by your business. In general, passwords should be at least seven characters long and contain both numeric and alphabetic characters. Multi-factor authentication can add a further layer of defense against breaches, while password managers are a fantastic way to generate and store unique passwords for all of your employees.

#4 - Organize routine data protection training 

Your people are the first, and most important, line of defense between a hacker and your company’s data. Frequent cybersecurity training sessions can help remind your employees of the most important data protection best practices, how to avoid falling into the trap of some of the most common cybersecurity threats, and keep data protection top of mind even when your team members are working from the comforts of their own home. In addition, develop a data protection framework that your employees should follow when working remotely. 

#5 - Implement a data backup and recovery plan

In the worst-case scenario, your company’s data might be breached. To avoid a cybercriminal having complete leverage over your organization in this situation, it’s important that you have a data backup and recovery plan to restore your data. Having this plan in place will ensure you don’t completely lose that data. 

Want to learn more about how you can improve your remote work data protection strategy? Get a demo of Cavelo today and learn how our innovative platform supports your broader remote work strategy with complete visibility into the whereabouts, risk and vulnerabilities of your data. 

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