03 December 2018

Remote work + mobile devices = cyber security disaster?

Change, slow and steady, is underfoot in Southeast Asia. Thanks to the future of work movement, businesses are beginning to open up to flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, and hiring independent contractors and freelancers.

While stubborn and traditional mentalities about what the work environment should look like still prevail, the thriving startup scene in Singapore is beginning to aid in a larger mindset shift. At a Global Leadership Summit in London, 34 percent of attendees stated more than half their company’s full-time workforce would work remotely  by 2020, while another 25 percent said more than 75 percent would not work in a traditional office by then. Times are changing, and your business—and its IT environment—need to evolve with them.

Join the remote work takeover

To this point, Channel NewsAsia featured two Singapore-based startups fully embracing the remote working lifestyle . The pair of them, design studio Melewi and remote-working marketplace MomoCentral, don’t have physical offices and allow their employees—spread across the globe—to work wherever they want. This type of company is fully distributed, or an office-less team set up to rely on carefully planned workflows and software to keep the business running. Time zone differences can throw a wrench in productivity, but with the right tools and processes, a fully distributed team can thrive. And, from a business standpoint, they can also help companies cut costs in terms of office rental and equipment.

Remote work isn’t only hitting Singapore and Southeast Asia, it’s a growing global movement impacting tech hubs around the world at varying degrees. However, with such an influx of remote workers spreading across the globe, there’s bound to be cybersecurity issues at hand. After all, remote workers need access to sensitive company data using their mobile devices, and they may connect to all sorts of unsecured Wi-Fi networks. What could go wrong?

Collaborate from near or afar

Remote workflows often mean employees need to use asynchronous collaboration to work together. What’s asynchronous collaboration? It’s working on a project with a handful of remote collaborators by using cloud-based tools, such as Google Docs, which doesn’t require workers to be online at the same time. While this type of collaboration is a leap forward for work flexibility and also cuts down storage and server costs for your business, it raises the danger of sensitive data leakage, as files can be accessed this way via all mobile devices. On top of that, there’s the potential for all these remote devices to become infected with malware, which could spread throughout a company’s entire network.

The Guardian also points out the likelihood of remote workers using secure browsers over internet-enabled inboxes to access work emails is quite low. In event of an attack, businesses would have to keep in mind that their remote workforce has been sharing files through their inbox app, which is harder to secure.

Don’t forget about endpoint security

Despite the many security issues at hand, there are a number of strategies you can take to safeguard your company data. One step is to ensure all remote workers’ devices are secure by making sure they keep all their apps updated and patched with the latest security rollouts. Most malware gets introduced to mobile devices via the internet and email, so if your devices are up to date from a hardware and software perspective, your IT network and overall endpoint security  will be safer.

Allowing your employees to go remote can help your business cut costs, but you should give your employees a secure connection to the company network, too. A virtual private network (VPN) works well in this case, as it will not only encrypt your remote employees’ web traffic but will also ensure all remote devices have the correct security patches installed. It’ll also allow you to monitor your employees’ devices for any malware infections.

Despite these security issues, remote working is on the rise globally and can be more of a help than a hindrance to your business. With it, you can tap into a much wider talent pool than previously possible, and flexible work arrangements are often seen as one of the greatest perks a company can offer, which may attract top talent to your team. It’ll require a bit of IT infrastructure investment and research into understanding what needs to be done, but building a remote workforce doesn’t have to be difficult—and the benefits win out in the long run.