Best Practices for Remote Work Security 

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Remote Work Security in 3 Steps remote worker on laptop on zoom call

3 Key Steps For Securing Remote Work Environments

Brief: Over the last five years, remote work has undergone significant transformation, driven by technological advancements, cultural shifts, and unexpected global events. In this article we look at how remote work has changed, and 3 steps you should take to develop your company’s remote work security strategy. 

“Do you have any idea what it’s like for me, being totally alone? Look, I’m not just a visitor out of another place. I’m out of another time!” 

– Buck Rogers

And for remote workers, it can often feel like you’re on an island, in another place, alone and away from the hustle and bustle of office life. 

However we cyber experts know differently. 

Remote workers are not isolated, not from cyber threats at least. 

Just take a look at data access. 

Unsecured data in remote work environments is a ticking time bomb no one should ignore.

Each day, businesses are hit with thousands of cyber attacks and remote data access is only one piece of the puzzle. 

For small businesses here in Canada, adapting to the changes brought about in the last 5 years by remote work involves balancing technology adoption with cyber security, fostering a positive company culture remotely, and navigating new regulatory landscapes. 

Let’s take a look at the landscape of hybrid or remote work security today, particularly in a country as connected and vast as here in Canada, showcasing a blend of challenges and opportunities for small businesses. 

The Last 5 Years: How Remote Work Has Evolved:

1. Technology Integration and Digital Tools

The proliferation of digital tools has been a game-changer for remote work. Video conferencing apps, collaboration platforms, and cloud services have become more sophisticated and user-friendly, enabling seamless communication and collaboration. Small businesses can now leverage these tools to maintain productivity, irrespective of their team’s location.

2. Cyber Security Emphasis

With the shift to remote work, security has become a critical concern for businesses. The increase in cyber threats targeting remote workers has led to a greater focus on securing digital infrastructure. Businesses are now more aware of the importance of VPNs, multi-factor authentication, and employee training in remote work security best practices.

3. Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

Remote work has brought the conversation about work-life balance to the forefront. Employees appreciate the flexibility of working from home but also face challenges related to overworking and blending personal and professional lives. Businesses have been adapting by implementing clearer policies around work hours and encouraging a healthy work-life balance.

4. Geographical Diversity and Talent Acquisition

Remote work has expanded the talent pool for small businesses, allowing them to hire from a geographically diverse pool. This has opened up opportunities to find skills and talents that were previously inaccessible due to location constraints. However, it also introduces the challenge of managing a distributed workforce and ensuring cultural cohesion.

5. Organizational Culture and Employee Engagement

Maintaining a strong organizational culture and high levels of employee engagement has become a new challenge in the remote work era. Small businesses have had to find innovative ways to keep teams connected, motivated, and aligned with company values, despite physical distances.

6. Regulatory and Compliance Considerations

As remote work becomes more common, regulatory and compliance issues, especially around data protection and labour laws, have become more complex. Businesses need to stay informed about local and international regulations that affect remote employees, which can be particularly challenging for small businesses without dedicated legal departments.

The evolution of remote work offers both remote work security challenges and opportunities, and businesses that can navigate these effectively will be well-positioned for the future.

In this article we help you disengage the ticking time bomb and secure your data!

Mastering Remote Work Security: The Essential Steps

So, you’ve made your way through the early stages of transitioning to a remote work environment.

Now, you’re focusing more closely on remote cyber security. For any team, even those working remotely, securing data and systems should be a cornerstone of your strategy. 

Let’s map out the steps essential to mastering cyber security in a remote work setting.

The Importance of Cyber Security in Remote Work

Canadian businesses can be an open field for data breaches and threats when employees are working remotely.

And cyber security isn’t just an IT department’s headache anymore. It’s a shared responsibility throughout your entire organization. Put simply; a better-secured work environment increases productivity and builds customer trust. 

Understanding and applying cyber security practices in remote work helps maintain the integrity and confidentiality of data. It protects personal and organizational assets from cyber threats, such as phishing, ransomware, and data breaches. 

Furthermore, it ensures business continuity, as cyber attacks can lead to costly downtime.

Let’s look at the steps to secure remote work in order of importance. 

Step 1: Setting Up a Secure Network

The very first step to mastering cyber security is to establish a secure network. 

This might be a “no duh” moment, but we have to start somewhere. 

Securing your network is the first and most critical step in protecting your business from cyber attacks due to several key reasons. The network serves as the backbone for most business operations, connecting various devices, applications, and data. 

Given its central role, a compromised network can lead to widespread disruption, employee data leaks, and unauthorized access to sensitive information. 

Here’s why securing your network should be first on your list:

1. Gateway to Critical Assets

The network is essentially the gateway to your business’s critical assets, including proprietary data, personal information of employees and customers, financial records, and intellectual property. Securing your network acts as the first line of defence to prevent unauthorized access to these vital resources.

2. Prevention of Unauthorized Access

Cyber attackers often target network vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to your business’s systems. By securing the network through measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption, businesses can significantly reduce the risk of such breaches.

3. Mitigation of Internal and External Threats

A secure network not only protects against external threats but also helps in mitigating internal threats, whether malicious or accidental. Proper network security controls can restrict access to sensitive data and applications, ensuring that only authorized personnel can access critical resources.

4. Compliance with Regulations

Many industries are governed by regulatory requirements that mandate the protection of sensitive data. By securing their networks, businesses can ensure compliance with these regulations, thus avoiding legal penalties, fines, and damage to reputation.

5. Building Trust with Customers and Partners

A secure network infrastructure builds trust among customers, clients, and business partners. It demonstrates your commitment to protecting sensitive information, which is crucial for maintaining and growing business relationships in today’s digital age.

6. Foundation for Comprehensive Cyber Security Strategy

Network security is often the foundation upon which a comprehensive cyber security strategy is built. It enables businesses to implement additional layers of security, such as endpoint protection, data security, and incident response mechanisms, in a more effective manner.

Securing Your Network

As a first step (and it shouldn’t need to be said, but how many times does an employee jump on the free local coffee shop network?!?) Employees should always avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for work-related tasks, they are playgrounds for cybercriminals. 

Instead, use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). They provide a secure connection to the internet and encrypt data travelling between a device and the network. 

Next, implement firewalls to block unauthorized access to your network and ensure that all devices used for work have updated antivirus software. This layer of protection minimizes the risk of malicious software (malware) infiltration. 

Remember, out-of-date software and hardware are more susceptible to cyber attacks. 


Hackers are quick to exploit known vulnerabilities in outdated systems.

Step 2: Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is widely regarded as the next most crucial step in enhancing your business’s cyber security posture, following the foundational measure of securing the network. 

MFA adds an important layer of security by requiring your users to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to resources, such as applications, online accounts, or VPNs.

This approach significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access, even if other security measures are compromised. 

Here’s why MFA is considered vital:

1. Compromised Credentials are a Common Attack Vector

One of the most common methods attackers use to breach systems is by exploiting stolen or weak user credentials. Despite ongoing education efforts, users often reuse passwords or create ones that are easy to guess. 

MFA addresses this vulnerability by ensuring that access is not solely dependent on something the user knows (like a password) but also on something the user has (like a mobile device) or is (like a fingerprint).

2. Enhances Security with Minimal Disruption

MFA strikes a balance between heightened security and user convenience. While it adds an extra step in the authentication process, modern MFA methods, such as push notifications to a smartphone, make this verification quick and user-friendly. This minimal disruption encourages adoption and compliance among users.

3. Regulatory Compliance

Many industry standards and regulations now require MFA as part of their cyber security guidelines. Implementing MFA can help businesses meet these requirements, avoiding potential fines and demonstrating a commitment to protecting sensitive information, which is particularly crucial for industries handling financial data, health records, and personal identifying information.

4. Reduces Risk of Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks, where attackers deceive users into revealing their credentials, remain a significant threat. MFA can mitigate the damage of these attacks by requiring an additional verification step that attackers are less likely to be able to bypass, such as a token generated on the user’s device.

5. Adaptable to Various Risk Levels

MFA solutions can be configured to adapt to the risk level of a given access request. For instance, access attempts from a device or location not previously associated with the user might trigger additional authentication steps. This adaptability enhances security without unnecessarily complicating access under normal conditions.

6. Protects Against Automated Attacks

Automated bots that attempt to access accounts through credential stuffing or brute force attacks can be effectively blocked by MFA. Since these attacks rely on exploiting weak or stolen credentials, the additional authentication factors present a significant barrier.

A Few Barriers to Implementing MFA with Remote Work 

Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a critical step toward enhancing an organization’s security posture. However, several barriers can hinder its deployment and acceptance. Understanding these challenges is the first step towards addressing them and ensuring a smooth implementation process:

1. User Resistance

One of the most common barriers is resistance from users. MFA introduces an additional step in the authentication process, which some users may find inconvenient or cumbersome, especially if they are accustomed to simple username-password logins. Overcoming this resistance often requires clear communication about the benefits of MFA and training to ease the transition.

2. Cost

Implementing MFA can incur costs related to acquiring the necessary technology and infrastructure, especially for organizations that choose hardware tokens or other physical authentication devices. There are also ongoing costs for maintenance and support. For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), these costs can be a significant consideration.

3. Complexity of Deployment

Setting up an MFA system can be technically complex, involving integration with existing IT infrastructure and systems. Organizations may need to update their technology or processes, which can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. This complexity can be a barrier, particularly for organizations with limited IT staff or expertise.

4. Integration Issues

Compatibility and integration issues with existing systems and software can pose significant challenges. Some legacy systems may not support MFA, requiring either costly upgrades or custom solutions. Ensuring that MFA solutions work seamlessly across all required platforms (e.g., email, VPNs, Microsoft cloud services) can be a complex task.

5. Lack of Awareness or Understanding

A lack of awareness or understanding of the risks associated with weak authentication practices can lead to a lack of support for MFA implementation from both management and users. Educating stakeholders about the potential consequences of cyber attacks and how MFA mitigates these risks is crucial for gaining support.

6. Accessibility and Inclusivity Concerns

MFA methods must be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. For example, methods that rely on text messages or smartphone apps may not be suitable for users without access to mobile devices or those with visual impairments. Ensuring that MFA solutions are inclusive and accessible can present additional challenges.

7. Privacy Concerns

Some MFA methods, particularly those involving biometric data (like fingerprints or facial recognition), can raise privacy concerns among users. Organizations must address these concerns by ensuring that personal data is handled securely and in compliance with privacy regulations.

8. Reliability and Recovery Concerns

Reliability is crucial for MFA systems, as access issues can directly impact productivity. Ensuring that users can reliably authenticate and have a way to recover access if they lose their authentication device or encounter other issues is essential but can add complexity to MFA implementation.

Setting Up MFA Best Practices and Tips

While Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is becoming increasingly common as a security measure, there are several nuanced best practices and tips that are often overlooked but can significantly enhance its effectiveness. These strategies go beyond the standard implementation advice and delve into deeper insights often shared among cyber security experts:

1. Use of Time-based One-Time Passwords (TOTPs) over SMS-based OTPs

Security experts prefer TOTPs generated by authenticator apps over SMS-based OTPs. SMS messages can be intercepted or redirected by attackers through techniques like SIM swapping. TOTPs, which are generated on the user’s device and change every 30-60 seconds, offer a more secure alternative.

2. Leveraging Biometric MFA Where Appropriate

Biometrics (fingerprint, facial recognition) offer a unique combination of convenience and security, making them a powerful MFA factor. However, their implementation requires careful consideration of privacy and security concerns, such as ensuring that biometric data is stored securely and never leaves the user’s device.

3. Implementing Adaptive MFA

Adaptive MFA adjusts the authentication requirements based on the user’s context, such as location, device used, or time of access. For instance, access requests from a known device and location might require fewer factors than those from a new device or geographic location. This approach balances security with user convenience.

4. Phishing-resistant MFA Methods

With phishing attacks on the rise, it’s crucial to use MFA methods that are resistant to these threats. Hardware security keys, for example, use cryptographic proof and are considered phishing-resistant. They don’t reveal the authentication secret, making them secure against replay attacks.

5. Cross-checking Access Requests with Additional Context

Beyond the authentication factors, examining additional context like the user’s behaviour patterns, the time of the login attempt, and the network’s security posture can provide extra layers of security. Anomalies can trigger additional security measures or alerts.

6. Regularly Reviewing and Auditing MFA Settings

Cyber security landscapes and organizational needs evolve, making it important to regularly review and audit MFA settings. This includes checking for deprecated authentication methods, updating policies to counter new threats, and ensuring that recovery methods are secure and up-to-date.

7. Educating Users on MFA Phishing

Even with MFA, phishing remains a threat, especially sophisticated attacks designed to trick users into providing additional authentication factors. Regularly educating users about these threats and how to recognize phishing attempts is crucial.

8. Secure Backup and Recovery Options

Ensuring that there are secure methods for account recovery and backup for MFA credentials is essential to prevent lockouts while maintaining security. This might include backup codes stored securely or a secondary authentication method for recovery.

After securing your network and implementing robust user authentication practices like MFA, you’ll want to stay on top of keeping systems patched and updated. 

Step 3: Regularly Updating and Patching Systems

Irregular updating and patching are akin to leaving your doors unlocked in a bad neighbourhood.

Regularly updating and patching systems is a critical step in maintaining a secure IT environment, especially after securing the network and implementing robust user authentication practices like MFA. 

This typically involves updating software, operating systems, and applications with the latest patches released by vendors to fix vulnerabilities and improve functionality. 

Here’s why it’s crucial to your remote work security strategy:

1. Closing Security Vulnerabilities

Software vendors regularly discover vulnerabilities in their products. If left unpatched, these vulnerabilities can be exploited by cyber attackers to gain unauthorized access, disrupt services, or steal sensitive data. Regular updates ensure that these security holes are patched before they can be exploited.

2. Preventing Exploit Chains

Cyber attackers often use a combination of vulnerabilities in different systems to execute complex attacks (known as exploit chains). Regularly patching all components of the IT infrastructure reduces the risk of such multi-step attacks, as it eliminates the weak links that attackers could exploit.

3. Compliance with Regulatory Requirements

Many industries have regulations that require businesses to maintain a certain level of cyber security, which includes regular software updates. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in fines, legal consequences, and damage to reputation.

4. Enhancing System Stability and Performance

Updates not only address security issues but also often include improvements to the stability and performance of software and systems. This can lead to better efficiency, reduced downtime, and a smoother user experience, which indirectly contributes to security by reducing the temptation to bypass problematic systems.

5. Maintaining Compatibility

Software ecosystems are highly interconnected, with many dependencies between different applications and systems. Regular updates ensure compatibility within this ecosystem, preventing issues that could arise from outdated software components failing to work together effectively.

6. Protecting Against Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

APTs are sophisticated, prolonged cyber attacks aimed at stealing information from or spying on targeted entities. Regularly updating and patching systems makes it more difficult for these threats to gain a foothold or maintain their presence within a network undetected.

7. Building a Culture of Security

Establishing regular update and patch management processes reinforces the importance of cyber security within an organization. It helps build a culture of security awareness and responsibility, which is crucial for effective long-term cyber defence.

Implementing Effective Patch Management

Given the importance of regular updates, developing an effective patch management strategy for your remote work security strategy is crucial. 

This includes:

  • Automating updates where possible to ensure timely application without relying on manual processes.
  • Prioritizing patches based on the severity of vulnerabilities and the criticality of the systems affected.
  • Testing patches in a controlled environment before widespread deployment to minimize the risk of unexpected disruptions.
  • Educating users about the importance of updates, especially for personal devices that access corporate resources in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environments.

In short, regularly updating and patching your systems is a fundamental cyber security practice that protects against a wide range of threats, ensures regulatory compliance, and maintains the overall health and efficiency of IT infrastructure.

A Canadian MSSP Can Help You Create and Manage Your Remote Work Security Program

For Canadian businesses, especially those with small in-house IT teams and a significant number of off-site employees, partnering with an MSSP can significantly alleviate the burdens of cyber security management. 

Not to be confused with an MSP, a collaboration with an MSSP not only enhances your security posture but also allows businesses to manage the complexities of your IT infrastructure more effectively, ensuring your operations are both secure and compliant with regulatory standards.

Here are a few ways partnering with an MSSP can make cyber security management more manageable and help to mitigate related problems:

1. Remote Work Security Expertise and Specialization

MSSPs bring specialized cyber security expertise that small or medium-sized businesses may not have in-house. This expertise is crucial for staying ahead of evolving cyber threats and effectively securing networks, systems, and data. MSSPs are equipped to implement advanced security measures, such as sophisticated MFA techniques, ensuring that your cyber security posture is robust and up-to-date.

2. 24/7 Remote Work Security Monitoring

Cyber threats can occur at any time, and the ability to detect and respond to incidents promptly is critical. MSSPs provide around-the-clock monitoring of your IT environment, identifying and mitigating threats before they can cause significant damage. This continuous vigilance helps protect sensitive data, especially important for remote workers accessing the network from various locations and devices.

3. Cost Efficiency

Hiring and training a full-time, in-house cyber security team can be prohibitively expensive for many small to medium-sized businesses. MSSPs offer a cost-effective alternative, providing access to a team of experts and advanced security technologies without the overhead associated with full-time staff. This subscription-based service model allows businesses to predict and control their remote work security expenses better.

4. Regulatory Compliance

MSSPs are well-versed in the regulatory landscape and can help businesses ensure their remote work security practices comply with relevant Canadian and international regulations. This is particularly important for businesses that handle sensitive personal information, financial data, or operate in heavily regulated sectors like healthcare and finance. MSSPs can help navigate these complex requirements, reducing the risk of costly penalties and legal issues.

5. Scalability and Flexibility

As businesses grow or their security needs change, MSSPs can scale their services accordingly. This flexibility ensures that cyber security measures remain aligned with the business’s size, complexity, and risk profile, including the unique challenges posed by remote work. MSSPs can adjust their services to accommodate an increasing number of remote employees, new technologies, or emerging threats.

6. Comprehensive Security Measures

MSSPs offer a range of services beyond monitoring and incident response, including regular system updates and patch management, vulnerability assessments, and security awareness training for employees

By outsourcing these tasks to an MSSP, businesses can ensure that their security measures are comprehensive and up-to-date, freeing up in-house resources to focus on core business activities.

7. Localized Knowledge and Support

Canadian MSSPs understand the specific cyber security challenges and regulatory environment in Canada, providing tailored advice and support. This localized knowledge is invaluable in crafting security strategies that address the unique aspects of operating in Canada, such as compliance with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

Ready to Develop Your Remote Work Security Strategy? 

If you need help developing your remote work security strategy or have the basics in place and want to add another layer of protection around your business, contact us today.