by Sasha-Lee de Bod

The “future of work” in the digital era is brought upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken the world by storm and franchises and/or businesses need to transform and adapt to remote-working environments.

Have businesses truly considered the challenges and risks associated with remote connectivity and are they adequately prepared? It is important to adopt strategies that enable employees to perform business tasks and stay productive during the lockdown period whilst reducing cybersecurity risks and challenges associated with remote access and connectivity.

This article provides guidelines on how to practice online safety during not only the lockdown period but in a digital era where online security is deemed a top priority.

1. Empower Employees for Protection

  • Create a culture of security within the business by engaging with and educating all employees. This can be done through:
    • Videos and infographics on the topic
    • Creating and implementing digital and online policies
    • Sending reminder and guidelines to employees working remotely
  • Each employee has a responsibility to practice safe and secure online behaviour
  • Employees should be informed on the potential trends in cyber-attacks and scams e.g. phishing, vishing, smishing, pharming, ransomware, malware, work from home scams, etc.
  • By empowering employees they will be able to identify, report and mitigate potential suspected risks

2. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

  • A VPN creates a secure remote connection to a company network and/or server of your choice
  • Improves online privacy as it encrypts all internet traffic that makes the data unreadable for anyone who may intercept it
  • All remote devices assigned to employees need to have access to the VPN
  • Important to note that it may slow down internet speed when devices are connected to the VPN

3. Securing All Networks

Data access is relatively easy when there is no security barrier. The following are seen as the security lines of defence:

3.1    Setup Firewalls

  • This is the first line of defence that prevents threats from entering company networks and systems as it creates a barrier between the device (e.g. company server) and the internet, thus preventing communication.
  • It is important to ensure that firewalls are enabled on all operating systems and hardware routers.

3.2   Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware Software

  • This is the second line of defence for the inevitable threats that might get through firewalls
  • The purpose of anti-virus and anti-malware software is to detect, block and remove security threats.
  • It is important to deploy software on all devices and servers
  • Ensure that it’s updated regularly to ensure maximum protection against potential and upcoming threats.

3.3   Securing Home Routers and Connections

  • A connection is key for working remotely and we need to be wary of the added strain on ISP capabilities.
  • The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) recently announced an emergency release of the broadband spectrum to meet a spike in internet demand during a lockdown to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. This temporary release is expected to ease network congestion and maintain the quality of broadband services throughout the country.
  • Working remotely can leave any business operation more exposed or vulnerable to security breaches as home networks are often less secure than business/office networks
  • Employees need to be educated and instructed on how to secure home routers and internet connections.  This can include, but is not limited to:
    • Updating the password of the router/connection
    • Installing and updating the firmware to ensure that vulnerabilities are protected
    • Setting the encryption to WPA2 or WPA 3
    • Restricting inbound and outbound traffic
    • Switching off WPS
    • Knowing the bandwidth limitations and usage
    • Enabling and disabling applications that are taking up the majority of the bandwidth, applications that are running in the background e.g. auto-updates.
    • Avoiding the usage of public Wi-Fi as public connections are generally not secured

3.4   Installing Updates Regularly

  • Software or operating system updates include patches for security vulnerabilities that have been uncovered since the previous release.
  • When working remotely we tend to minimise bandwidth usage and costs by turning off automatic updates, however it is important to schedule updates for after peak hours and to avoid any device downtime whilst employees are working.

4. Data Backup

  • Data backups are critical for every franchise/business operation.
  • Digital backups need to be encrypted to ensure that critical and sensitive data remains safe and secure
  • Backups are generally stored separate from the main repository i.e. network, server, etc. through hardware backups or cloud solutions
  • A cloud solution is seen as a cost effective and convenient method of storage that enables a franchise/business to customize backup schedules and storage options to suit specific needs
  • The safety and security practices of data backup solutions or providers need to be investigated to ensure that only trusted and approved devices can access the data.
  • In the event that data is lost due to human error, hardware damage and/or cyber attacks it can be restored to the latest backup version.

5. Password Management

  • All accounts and devices need to leverage unique and strong passwords that consist of a string of upper-case and lower-case letters, numbers and unique characters i.e. Password1 is never a clever or secure password.
  • Password manager applications and tools are available to assist in securing and remembering passwords if various accounts or applications need to be utilised.
  • All devices authorised for remote user needs to be locked with access-controlled passwords for the device, server and emails.

6. Setup 2-Factor Authentication

  • Two-factor authentication and two-step verification are additional security measure to having strong and secure passwords.
  • It provides additional protection to accounts by utilising email or text confirmations.
  • For example when financial transactions are done electronically:
    • the connection is always encrypted,
    • it requires a login password to gain access to an account,
    • whilst it prompts a confirmation text to the account holder and
    • an authentication process is in place for transactions to be approved

7. Securing Communications and Online Activities

  • When navigating the internet it is important to be vigilant, avoid suspicious websites and watch out for hidden and malicious URL’s
  • A site is encrypted and secure when:
    • A lock icon is present in the address bar where it shows the website URL
    • A website URL starts with https:// (‘s’ means it is secure)
  • Many companies are opting for cost-effective mainstream messaging service platforms with employees (in addition to email). It is important to ensure that the platform offers end-to-end encryption e.g. WhatsApp
  • Data privacy and security practice concerns for essential and valuable communication platforms i.e. Zoom has been raised due to the increased traffic surge for videoconferencing which has left the platform vulnerable for cyber-attacks on user accounts.  These communication platform providers need to review if current security practices are sufficient to adapt to a recent and sudden surge in usage. Hence, the importance of investigating available platforms’ capabilities is necessary.
  • Identity and access management can be enabled by restricting user permissions to certain data and or content from the system, VPN and website URL’s

Conclusion

The best defence is being prepared, franchises/businesses that have the opportunity to work remotely should not wait until its too late to improve their digital security measures. It is important to consult with your IT department or outsourced service provider to ensure that digital and security measures are in place to protect your brand, your employees and your customers.

Source:

Moneyweb – SA makes more spectrum available to meet internet demand