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Remote work could be the future of work.

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Currently, 3.9 million Americans work remotely, which marks a 115% increase from 2005. Estimates indicate that more than one-third of employees will work remotely in the next 10 years. Desire for greater flexibility and work/life balance is partially responsible for this trend, in addition to an ever-increasing number of businesses that are based entirely online. With cloud and mobile technologies making it easier than ever before to communicate and collaborate regardless of location, organizations are embracing remote work as a way to cut costs and satisfy employee demand.

Online security concerns grow

Despite the productivity and cost-saving benefits of remote work, the concept introduces serious cybersecurity risks that have the potential to devastate entire businesses. For example, if an employee logs on to their email via a coffee shop's public wifi, that individual runs the risk of sending their work emails, customer information and other business data directly to hackers rather than to the wifi connection point. Furthermore, thanks to a massive flaw discovered in WPA2 (the encryption standard that secures all modern wifi networks) last year, the employee's encrypted information could be easily accessed by anyone near the coffee shop if their device hasn't been updated with the relevant security patch.

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Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are particularly vulnerable to remote work security risks, as they usually have fewer resources to proactively prevent and/or recover from cyber attacks. Also, most consumers are wary of doing business with new, unproven companies, so if a data breach were to occur as a result of an employee working remotely, any newfound customer trust or loyalty could be rattled.

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The slideshow above spotlights five key best practices SMBs should incorporate in order to safely benefit from the remote work trend.

Seeking solutions

To participate in the undeniable trend of remote work and securely reap its benefits, continually enforce basic cybersecurity best practices, even the most rudimentary ones. Invest in basic cybersecurity hygiene and education. Prioritize reigning in Shadow IT and evaluate your back-end technology to ensure it can support a scattered workforce. Replicate at least one instance of your critical business data offline, and take advantage of affordable cyber insurance options to ensure your hard-won business isn't crippled in the event of a remote employee-induced data breach.

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Ari Vared ([email protected]) is a vice president at CyberPolicy and CoverHound.

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