As the global pandemic continues, more and more businesses are transitioning or committing long-term to a hybrid work model. Unfortunately, this move poses new data security issues, especially when it comes to Personally Identifiable Information or PII data. For employers, juggling between in-person and remote workers makes it extremely challenging to secure their data and servers. In addition, as employees and third-party contractors or other remote workers log into your company’s network from different remote locations, security vulnerabilities are increasing since hackers have multiple points to target.
Why the Hybrid Model Increases PII Data Vulnerabilities
Remote workers are typically easier targets. For instance, weak or lack of home Wi-Fi security, absent firewalls, laptops shared with friends or family members, poor security best practices, and unsecure mobile devices are some nightmares that cybersecurity professionals must face on a routine basis.
Remote workers may also lack fast internet connectivity or adequate bandwidth, resulting in delays in software update patching. This could leave weak points for hackers to exploit. Using shadow IT support and unauthorized software could also jeopardize your business’s entire cybersecurity posture.
Additionally, sensitive data discovery and protection become a lot harder across an expanded internet-based perimeter brought about by the hybrid work model. Typically, access to sensitive data requires a robust set of checks and balances compared to a standard traditional office environment. For instance, attackers can easily fake a digital identity and hijack your sensitive data from a secure environment.
Cybercriminals can also leverage your PII data, emails, website visits, financial content and online purchase, dark web data dumps, social media interactions, and browsing behavior to emulate a virtual identity and execute a phishing attack.
Data Security Best Practices to Minimize PII Data Vulnerabilities
As economies across the globe gradually reopen, business leaders and employees alike support the continued adoption of a more hybrid working model. However, IT leaders are concerned that a distributed workforce could worsen PII data vulnerabilities.
With both remote and on-site workers to account for, this is a critical time to consider cybersecurity updates that reflect the new norm of working. Below are some strategies to employ to minimize vulnerability to your network infrastructure:
1: Enact Multifactor Authentications
Setting up multifactor authentication for all systems is a great point to start. That way, users will have to go through multiple layers of security to access your company systems. For instance, in addition to user name and password, users will be compelled to enter a one-time pin sent to their mobile phones or input biometrics to authenticate their identity. Additionally, you’ll need to work closely with an IT service provider to continually analyze new vulnerabilities and how new threats are happening to strengthen your data protection system.
2: Patch and Update Wi-Fi Routers
Ensure Wi-Fi routers are properly patched or up to date. You should never rely on default passwords since hackers can easily circumvent them through brute force attacks. Additionally, install intrusion detection software or antivirus to reduce risks of data loss or corruption. It’s also good practice to ensure that all users connect to your network through a virtual private network (VPN). That way, all incoming and outgoing traffic is encrypted, and users remain anonymous while browsing the internet.
3: Adopt a Zero Trust Security Model
Zero Trust is a cybersecurity philosophy that emphasizes trusting no one. Organizations employ Zero Trust models to limit those who can access their sensitive data sources. Always adopt the Zero Trust philosophy for your logins, passwords, and device access. In other words, avoid sharing login details or passwords with anyone, especially over instant messenger, email, or video conference. Hackers can eavesdrop on these mediums and get hold of user credentials that they can then use to access sensitive PII data.
Another critical aspect of the Zero Trust model is to grant employees access only to the resources vital to their work and nothing more.
4: Lock Away Your Passwords
Other than accessing the internet through a VPN, your security measures and accounts are still vulnerable without a strong password or passphrase to secure them. For instance, the Colonial Pipeline attack occurred due to a hacker gaining access through an unused VPN system that was not protected with multifactor authentication.
Consider using a trusted password manager to organize all your logins and passwords properly. Password managers typically remember each sophisticated pairing and are secured with multifactor authentication for added protection. In addition, it makes it easier to include variety in your passwords to make them stronger without ever remembering or writing them down.
5: Manage Secure Work-issued Devices
Employees traveling between their homes and the office setting are probably carrying along work-related devices, such as tablets, laptops, or memory devices. Unfortunately, this increases the chances of these gadgets landing in the wrong hands due to misplacement or theft.
As convenient as it may seem, avoid any scenario of employees accessing critical company data via personal devices. Insist on everyone using secure work-issued devices to access your organization’s network at any time. Additionally, have these devices ingrained with strong security defense to ensure that hackers don’t access your PII data even if they lay hands on the devices.
More importantly, conduct regular employee safety awareness training to ensure that everyone understands and adheres to cybersecurity best practices. For instance, employees should carefully vet every email attachment they download or links they click to avoid phishing attacks. Apps and programs may also have security vulnerabilities that can open gateways for hackers.
In the post-pandemic world, business leaders will miss those days where the primary cybersecurity issue was physical vulnerability, such as misplacing a laptop. However, with the hybrid work model, the challenge has gone to the full spectrum, so you don’t have to leave your gadget somewhere to be vulnerable. Therefore, you must establish a holistic security policy to safeguard your organization from PII data vulnerabilities. And a holistic security policy starts with sensitive data discovery since you can’t protect data or eliminate vulnerabilities that you don’t know about.
The AI-based Inventa™ platform from 1touch.io provides a network-based perpetual, scalable, and pinpoint-accurate data discovery and classification solution with automated, near real-time discovery, classification, and cataloging of all sensitive data – both structured and unstructured – at the enterprise scale. The Inventa platform takes a zero-trust approach to data discovery and doesn’t rely on input from your organizational players.
If you’d like to learn more, watch this quick video showing how and why Inventa does sensitive data discovery better than anyone else: