There’s no looking back when it comes to the growing trend of remote work. Researchers at Strategy Analytics predict the total number of distributed workers — or a combination of employees and contractors who work at least partly from outside of the office — to hit 1.87 billion worldwide by 2022.

The rising popularity of a distributed workforce comes with good reason. It provides organizations with a much broader talent pool and it requires a smaller real estate footprint, to name a few corporate benefits. In turn, the flexibility also leads to happier, more productive employees. But mobile workers also complicate data security efforts. How can you secure your distributed workforce?

The Call for Greater Data Security

In 2018, more than 5 billion records were stolen in publicly-known data breaches. Individual impact, company reputational damage and costly compliance fines are top of mind concerns for most businesses. Reliance on a workforce that lives outside your traditional network defenses puts you at even greater risk. With so many endpoints out there, all with the potential of granting access to your sensitive data, your attack surface is exponentially larger. Even the most well-meaning workers too-often follow lax security protocols from their homes or perhaps worse, a coffee shop WIFI, and they lack the skills to address a potential threat.

When it comes to working with a distributed workforce, be it employees, contractors, freelancers or even partners, organizations should consider these 7 data security best practices:

  1. Conduct, and respond to, regular risk assessments: Examine both how data is stored and how data is accessed.
  2. Maintain and enforce security controls: Because you can’t secure what you can’t see, maintain visibility over all of your endpoints. Then, monitor and restore when necessary the health of security controls such as encryption, anti-malware, or any other application or configuration, and make sure the operating system is up to date. Read: 2019 Endpoint Security Trends Report for details on how quickly security tools degrade.
  3. Harden access: Ensure internal system access requires strong authentication and apply strict limits on information available to the outsider. Two-factor authentication techniques, such as a combination of a token and a password, for external access is a best practice.
  4. Isolate access: Cordon off externally-accessed systems and networks from the rest of the internal network using internal firewalls (similar to a network DMZ used to isolate sacrificial servers). Log and review traffic that traverses the internal firewalls to the externally-accessed systems.
  5. Log and audit: Automate and regularly review logs of external access. Unexpected access may turn out to be a false alarm but check and verify.
  6. Regularly review: Business partners, freelancers and contractors come and go and their IT needs may change over time. Restrict or revoke access as necessary. Streamline remote worker transitions by remotely freezing or wiping devices regardless of location, user, or network status.
  7. Be prepared for a breach: Prepare a data breach response plan and train a team to handle the incident. This can help both mitigate the breach and its fallout.

For more on how you can better protect the data in your care, regardless of where it may reside at any given point in time, download our eBook, 3 Overlooked Data Privacy Considerations.