Today, we live in a world where everything needs to happen fast. Everyone is involved in a million different things and we rarely have any time to get together with our colleagues and work as a team.
That’s why the industry felt the need to put remote teams in the equation. Actually, nearly half the workforce is expected to work remotely in some capacity by 2020.
One of the most important topics when it comes to literally any organization, is definitely data security.
You can imagine how this topic can become a big issue for those organizations functioning with remote teams. With employees spread all over the world, people working in different locations and time zones, it’s very possible that company data will be mistakenly leaked.
In spite of this present issue, it’s already a well known fact that virtual teams are the future of workplace culture.
The world is just gonna become crazier, technology is only gonna evolve more every day and things will continuously need to happen faster and faster with each new invention.
So all there’s left to do for us is to learn how to handle working in remote teams and avoiding the issues that come along with this method of productivity.
In this article, you will find helpful tips that might come in handy for those that are part of or managing a remote team, who are trying to avoid data leaks and breaches.
Preventing data leaks and breaches
Using the cloud
Companies today, conduct their business by using the cloud somehow in their daily activity. If that’s already a normality when it comes to a traditional work team, it’s definitely a must for the virtual teams.
By using the cloud, the employees of remote teams who have different work schedules, or live in different time zones, have access to company data at all times.
Many companies are still skeptical when it comes to using the cloud for conducting their business. Therefore, some companies store data on personal servers or hard drives – but this too has risks. If there is an unplanned data loss – then many people start using special services and software for data recovery.
But if you analyze the situation, you can figure out that it’s much more simpler for a hacker to get into the personal computer of an employee who only has his work live locally on his computer, than to hack into a company’s cloud-based content.
Also, an employee is much more likely to lose company data if he only keeps his work on his computer and nowhere else.
Providing remote workers with secure access to the corporate network is definitely a key step.
Chances are that if you work in a remote team, the company’s system includes a technology such as virtual private network (VPN) software, that allows you to access company data securely.
But the job is not done by just providing the connection. There are certain tools that should be used, meant to verify that remote computers have security patches installed.
Also, once one such software is up and running, it should be monitored for any signs of infection.
Remote users’ devices protection
The majority of malware that is able to infect a worker’s device comes from the web or via email.
The best thing that can be done in order to avoid data leakage and security breaches, is to forbid workers to browse the internet or to use the email for personal purposes on their work devices.
Even if the company owns and provides workers of remote teams with all the necessary devices, which is not a cheap thing to do, it’s still a very hard thing to accomplish.
The next best thing that can be done, is to have the employees use security software by always using the latest version of all applications. Of course, it’s not a good idea to rely on employees to keep all the apps updated, so automatic updates should definitely be activated for their devices.
Another idea is to have the employees enable data protection on their devices, which can really improve data security.
For example, when it comes to iOS users, if workers don’t enable data protection or if they use apps that don’t utilize it, devices rely on basic iOS data encryption to protect important company data, which only makes the devices easier to wipe.
Cyber defense strategies
Proper password management is definitely a must in this area. The best way to deal with this aspect is to use a password manager for good security.
One such password manager is meant to randomly generate passwords for you and store them safely. A platform like LastPass is guaranteed to generate efficient passwords that will really improve the security of your accounts and data.
Another thing that can be done when it comes to passwords, is to use passphrases instead. Sure, the password manager can do the work for you, but sometimes, when you need to log in to your computer for example, you’re gonna have to get creative on your own.
Account breaches can give a hard time to the company’s employees. That’s why all of them, especially those working in remote team, should be trained to use the two-factor authentication.
The majority of websites, platforms and applications only require a password from a user in order to log in. But in recent years, since data security has become a world problem, an increasing number of services have started supporting the second factor as well.
When it comes to the second factor of authentication, one of the following might be required from a user: something they know (a secret), something they have (a token), or something they are (their biology).
Common sense best practices
It is very important indeed to be updated on the latest methods that improve data security. But sometimes, people tend to focus too much on those, and they forget about the most common, basic practices that can be used:
- First and foremost, turning on your firewall is definitely not something to forget about. The firewall is meant to control network traffic to and from your computer based on a set of rules. Being the first line of defense, it works by simply asking you whether to allow new programs to access your network or not. Sometimes it’s amazing how people tend to forget about this basic rule of security.
- Just like modern smartphones, your laptop should have full disk encryption too. What does it mean? Well, in case your laptop gets lost or stolen, no one will be able to access your data. This way, if you work in a remote team and your work laptop somehow disappears, the company’s data is safe.
- A less known fact is that if you share an internet connection with someone, you share more than just the bandwidth. Sometimes, depending on different aspects of configuration, that someone could be able to read all your information, including passwords, emails or messages. Be cautious when it comes to the security of your connections, by making sure that no one that is not authorized has access to your internet connection.
What does a manager have to do?
It is very important to have all the remote workers trained when it comes to avoiding data leaks and breaches. But what’s even more important is that the manager of the team should be able to handle a group of people who don’t actually work in the same office.
So how does a manager make sure that his employees are following all the necessary rules and take all the measures of prevention?
Remote worker security policies
Giving your team a set of rules that they have to follow will definitely make their lives easier when it comes to all the things they have to do in order to protect company data.
Here are some examples of policies that you can implement for your employees:
First of all, you have to make sure that your employees do not have access to confidential information without the necessary legal groundwork.
Also, if one of your team members doesn’t actually need access in a specific area of your company, don’t give it to them. It’s true that in order for you and your employees to work as a whole, you should be able to trust them, but don’t give them a certain power that they don’t need for work purpose.
When it comes to passwords, you should definitely make it a priority to implement strong authentication policies:
- Make sure that you either have your employees use a password manager or you require that they choose very strong passwords with a minimum number of alphanumeric characters.
- The people in your team might get really annoyed by this next rule if you decide to implement it, but it’s a great method to ensure security: have your employees’ passwords expire frequently, so they are obligated to change it as often as possible.
- Also, using two-factor authentication on every platform or with every software that they use, it’s really the best way to go about it.
One thing that you should keep in mind is that there comes a time when certain people in your team will leave, and it’s your job to make sure that they don’t take the company information with them. Here are a few simple ways to do that:
- The first thing that you should do is to give your employees email accounts on the company’s own domain. That way, when they leave the company, you will be able to audit and disable their communications.
- Most teams use a centralized IRC channel that allows them to communicate with each other in real time. Yes, it’s best to use the email, but sometimes they just need to get information from their teammates right away. By applying this method, you also have the ability to disable or audit the employee’s communications after they leave.
Policies to protect your infrastructure
- One thing that should definitely not be forgotten is to keep systems updated. Security vulnerabilities are discovered and patched every day, so it’s up to you to apply all the necessary fixes. You don’t want to wake up one day realizing that a breach was caused by vulnerability that was patched weeks ago.
- What you should consider, if you can afford it of course, it’s to implement the BYOD (bring your own device) policy. If you have the money, supply your team members with all the necessary devices. This way, you’ll be able to implement security policies on their work laptops or work phones and you’re gonna be able to avoid data leakage.
- Don’t forget about encrypted backups! After all, data is the most valuable for the company.
Security breaches do happen
You should do everything in your power in order to prevent them, but sometimes security breaches are just unavoidable.
So what’s best for the company, is that you take the time to create a response plan on what to do if a security breach does happen.
There are numerous events that can happen and you can’t actually do anything to prevent them: one of your employee’s could lose a laptop with sensitive data, your infrastructure may have been accessed by someone who was not authorized or maybe a security vulnerability is discovered.
So what should be included in your response plan?
- First of all don’t panic! Sometimes, security breaches are a problem that can be solved in minutes. Sometimes all you have to do is to take a server offline or to disable a user account.
- Have your employees message you through the IRC channel in case they come across something strange.
- Figure out which team members are affected by the breach, talk to them and try to find a way to get everything back to normal. You might want to involve authorities too, depending on the scope of the breach.
- If something goes wrong and the service that you offer to your users doesn’t work anymore, make sure you let them know. You don’t want the users of your service to get annoyed trying to figure out what happened. For example, you can post it on social media when it happens, but make sure that you post again when the problem is solved. That way, everyone will know that they can use your service again.
Tips for managing a remote team
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to a remote team is data security. But what good is it to take all the measures of preventions of security if the actual people on the team don’t get along and don’t communicate properly with each other?
When a group of people from different countries, in different time zones, have to work on the same thing together it’s definitely a hard thing to handle. That’s why it’s very important for a manager to learn how to manage a high-performing virtual team.
Here are some tips that might come in handy in this situation:
Hiring the right people
Unfortunately, not all people make successful remote workers. Some people are meant to work in an office with others cause they can’t really manage to do things on their own.
So it’s up to the manager to be able to only hire the people who do not need extensive supervision and micro-management.
As a manager, if you decide that you need a new remote worker in your team, make sure to pay close attention to the candidate’s history of self-management.
The candidate might be the right choice for a future employee in your team if he or she has previously worked as a freelancer, has hobbies that require substantial time investment or has even worked in a remote team before.
The right tools
The main reason why the entire concept of working from home actually works today, is because of all the online available tools:
- Maybe the most important is the chat tool. You need to be able to get in touch with your employees at all times and they should also be able to reach you and reach each other in real time. You can use something like Slack, especially for team chats, and maybe the good old Skype for one-on-one communication.
- Sometimes it’s very important to keep in contact with your employees by creating a feeling of an office environment. And the best way to do that from a distance is by using a video chat tool. Make sure you pick the best tool for your team, one that allows screen-sharing, many-to-many video chats and even scheduled chats.
- Most remote teams today use an application like Trello, Asana, or Clever Hub where they can keep track of their work, communicate, share files and give updates on their part of the project.
Hiring someone remotely obviously means that you are not next to them at all times so you’re not gonna be able to answer possible questions that they might have.
That’s why the best way to go about it, is to make sure you write internal documentation that will definitely save you some time and will also help the confused newbies of your team.
What are the things that should be included in this internal documentation?
- Communication protocols. Make it clear to your employees, especially if you run a client-focused business, if they have to respect certain deadlines, or if they have to respond to emails in a certain style. Here you can list possible email or project templates and make sure you don’t forget to mention which communication tools they should use depending on what type of communication they want to have with you or with their colleagues.
- Alerts. Make up a system for classifying and dealing with problems and be sure to mention all the details in the documentation. You have to let your employees know that running a company or managing a team is not an easy thing and there are all sorts of problems that come up every single day. So it’s important for them to know that not all problems have the same urgency. If they come to you with a specific problem, they should specify if it’s a green alert, which can be something like a low-priority task, or if it’s a red alert, for major issues.
- How-To’s. Here is the thing that all of your new hires will need to read over and over again. Here you should explain how to use software tools, how to perform different tasks or how to manage certain assets.
Your goal is to manage a successful remote team, so in order to do that, you have to be straightforward and tell them what to expect from the job and most importantly, what you expect from them.
Make sure you tell them about how you and your team work, especially about the tools that you use.
They will definitely want to hear about what decisions they will be asked to make, how to deal with certain problems or how to communicate with you and with other teammates.
It is your responsibility to make a potential employee understand that he’s expected to work by himself. Given the fact that he’s not surrounded by other people at all times during work time, he’ll possibly find himself in situations where he has to make some decisions on his own.
In spite of all the security issues that come along with remote teams, there’s no doubt that they will partly replace traditional teams in the near future.
Companies that use remote workers save up a lot of money every year, given the fact that they don’t actually need to create a work environment for the employees.
When it comes to data leaks and breaches, sometimes they are unavoidable. But most times, they’re due to the lack of attention of the employees who didn’t get proper training.
Here’s the part when the responsibility of the manager comes into the picture. The manager is that person who has to handle the entire team and has to make sure that he’s hiring the right people, trains them accordingly, leaves internal documentation and uses the right tools.
The manager is expected to handle any situation where data might be leaked and he’s also responsible to make sure that the right measures of prevention are taken in order to avoid these situations.
Working in a remote team is the future, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds, and it’s definitely not simple to manage one.
But with all the proper precautions, one virtual team could work together perfectly fine, with the minimum number of data leaks or breaches.
About the Author:
Philip Piletic focuses primarily on the fusion of technology, small business, and marketing. He is an editor, writer, marketing consultant and guest author at several authority websites. In love with startups, latest tech trends and helping others get their ideas off the ground. Philip would like to thank Lendi for helping with this article.