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Four ways to keep your ‘mobile’ business (and workforce) secure

Posted by Chad O'Connor  August 16, 2012 11:00 AM

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If you were to transport an office worker from the 1970s, even the 1980s, into an office environment today, they wouldn’t recognize it. Forget about the dazzling new technology we all take for granted; this time traveler wouldn’t be able to comprehend the amount of flexibility we have today. Gone are the days of the 9-5 work schedule, where employees all came into the office, worked for eight hours and then went home to their families, leaving their work behind.

Businesses are realizing that when they embrace flexible schedules and enable remote working, employees are more productive. Mobile devices and smartphones, inexpensive laptops, and remote connectivity solutions are aiding in the attitude shift, as they make it possible for employees to connect regardless of location or time of day, allowing them to work anywhere, anytime.

The ‘work from anywhere’ trend is forcing companies to reassess some of their policies and IT infrastructures. These businesses, especially small businesses, are forced to address issues that were not previously considered or seriously pondered, specifically security. As more workers connect to the business network remotely, here are a few things organizations should keep in mind to protect their data.

Set up the network
The first question a company should ask is: “how are mobile workers connecting back to the office?” Do they connect using a VPN or other secure tunnel and are employees using two-factor authentication or just a username and password system? When companies open up doors to allow remote access to the network, they need to make sure only authorized access is granted. The use of VPN tunnels and branch office security tools can ensure the remote access to the network is just as secure as network access from within the office.

Encryption is your friend
The more people you have working outside the traditional office space, the more likely they are to misplace and/or compromise their devices. Without proper encryption, the loss or theft of a device results in the much more considerable and damaging loss or theft in customer and company information. Depending on what type of information the employee had access to and had on their device, this could cause a serious data breach and force the company issue a breach disclosure, potentially devastating to its reputation, especially if it’s a small business.

But, if data on devices or in the datacenter is encrypted, then theft or loss only costs the company the value of the device, an incredibly small sum considering the potentially dire alternatives.

Manage those devices
Another simple, yet effective way to mitigate the loss or theft of a mobile device is to use mobile device management technology, which allows organizations to remotely wipe (aka delete) the contents of the device, rendering it blank and useless.

It is also helpful to have policies in place for how employees will use mobile devices. These policies should include rules for establishing password protection and setting up lock periods when the device has been idle. These policies can be enforced using mobile device management tools to ensure only the device owner can access the equipment.

Avoid low tech
If a company’s IT systems aren’t good enough to enable remote access, employees will find ways to access data so they can get their jobs done. This may mean printing out files and carrying them back and forth to the office so they can get work done.

It may seem counterintuitive, but paper files and old fashioned systems are the least secure. If a paper file is lost or misplaced, it can’t be encrypted, locked or wiped—easily accessible to prying eyes. If an organization is going to promote remote working, they need to make sure their IT systems are up to date and can handle an increase in the mobile workforce or they put themselves at risk for an old-fashioned data breach.

Payal Mehrotra is product manager at IT security firm Sophos.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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