Remote Work Cybersecurity. The Role of Free VPN in Protecting Remote Access

Remote work has never been more popular than nowadays. Boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the remote work trend is still growing today. Both employers and employees cite many advantages in favor of this working format. While saving costs on office space and increasing employee productivity, remote work brings cybersecurity challenges. Let’s take a look at the risks associated with remote work and how they can be avoided with a systematic approach and the use of modern technologies, such as a free VPN.

Statistical Overview of Remote Work

Due to the rapid growth of remote work due to COVID-19 and the fact that history knows no examples of the majority of people simultaneously switching to remote work, many authoritative organizations have begun to study this phenomenon. There have been numerous surveys and studies conducted and we now have data on the current and future of remote work. Let’s take a look at some statistical highlights:

  • According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 35% of workers with jobs that can be done remotely are working from home all of the time, and 41% are on a hybrid schedule.
  • A survey by McKinsey & Company says that 70% of organizations expect remote work to remain a significant part of their workforce strategy.
  • 98% of workers expressed the desire to work remotely, at least some of the time, and 57% of workers would search for a new job if their current employer didn’t allow remote work.

Statistics show us that three-quarters of employees work remotely, either full-time or several days a week. Employees prefer to keep working from home, stating that they can maintain a better work-life balance, stay productive, and prevent burnout. Employers in some industries are willing to return to the office format, as it is a more classic form of work that allows for more control over employees, but are forced to allow remote work in the fight for talent. Remote work is here to stay, and companies need to adapt their processes.

Remote Work Cybersecurity Challenges

Although remote work has been popular for several years, security risks remain relevant. According to The Identity Theft Resource Center report, 2023 has already become the worst year in terms of data breaches with 2,116 data compromises through the first nine months of the year. The disappointing statistics force us to look once again at cybersecurity challenges and think about ways to mitigate them.

  • Unsecured Connections.

One of the biggest security challenges of remote work is unsecured Wi-Fi networks. The organization often cannot control and influence the employee’s workplace, and employees may not always be aware of the risks and choose to work in public places with insecure Internet networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are unsecured, and if an employee connects to such network to access corporate information it puts data at risk in the process of transmission.

  • Use of personal devices.

Sometimes employers don’t provide remote employees with the necessary devices, forcing them to use personal ones. In the case of hybrid work, employees regularly transfer work files to their personal computers to continue working from home. The trend of using personal devices for work appeared long before the era of remote work and was called Bring Your Own Device. Companies have adopted it to save money on purchasing equipment and due to the higher employee productivity when working with personal devices.

The use of personal devices for work increases cybersecurity risks, as it is hard to control software updates. It may be difficult to keep track of which devices are accessing corporate information without sufficient device management, which might result in data breaches.

  • Email scams.

Phishing schemes consist of sending fake messages, usually via email, disguised as reputable organizations, business partners, or even colleagues. The purpose of such messages is to gain access to important business information forcing employees to download malware that compromises the system. It’s getting harder for employees to detect phishing emails since they’ve gotten so intelligent, especially when they bypass email filters and get directly to the inbox.

  • Data storage on personal computers.

Remote employees often store company documents on their personal computers. Such storage is not secure, as it can be easily stolen or hacked. Further problems arise when an employee quits, and it is difficult to check whether he or she has left copies of documents on a personal device.

  • Lack of control and employees’ cybersecurity awareness.

The lack of control over remote employees in cybersecurity and their lack of awareness of the importance of security measures cause most of the problems. Working in the office on company equipment, it is easier for the employer to control software updates, block access to risky resources, and employees can quickly get a second opinion on any questions they have. This is often lost when switching to remote work, so this issue requires special attention.

Solutions to Address Cybersecurity Challenges

In fact, some solutions can mitigate almost any security risk. A systematic approach is needed to build a reliable and secure system. The basic steps to this include:

  • VPN usage.

There are a variety of VPNs on the market that are capable of addressing unsecured connections. Of course, not all VPNs work fairly and we’ll talk about the criteria you should pay attention to when choosing a reliable VPN.

To get a basic understanding of how the VPN works, you need to know about its two main functions: traffic encryption and hiding the user’s IP address. Thanks to reliable encryption protocols, your data will be safe during the transfer to the receiving server. The function of hiding your IP address and replacing it with the IP address of the selected server protects you from tracking your Internet activity and allows you to safely use public Wi-Fi networks. All other VPN functions, such as access to geo-blocked resources, are derivative and take a backseat when it comes to connections for work.

  • Device Management.

Preferably, employers should provide employees with the equipment they need for work and ensure that they connect to business systems only from these devices. However, if this is not the case, you need to develop a device management system. First of all, you should clearly define which devices running which operating systems can be used for work. The devices authorized for work should be registered with the IT department. This will allow the sysadmin to quickly detect unauthorized connections by comparing the list of registered and connected devices. Since employees are responsible for updating software and using antivirus when using personal devices for work, it is important to train them and regularly remind them of updates.

  • Cloud data storage.

To address the risks related to company data storage on personal devices it’s important to choose a cloud storage and store all your work files there. The employer should choose a reliable cloud storage facility and specify the obligation to store data in the relevant company policies.

  • Continuous training and development of cybersecurity policies.

This is the most general and complex point. All security measures should be set out in the company’s internal policies. Developing a cybersecurity policy is an essential step, but it is equally important to communicate it to employees and regularly update knowledge, especially in a context of limited control. Do not forget to specify an employee exit policy in security documents, especially in the context of using personal devices for work, when an employee may save company files before quitting and illegally use this information in favor of the future employer.

When developing a cybersecurity policy do not forget to provide employees with a “blameless” method of reporting potential risks to ensure that employees report any suspicions without fear of judgment.

When training employees, it is important to constantly repeat basic cybersecurity rules. If you work remotely you should:

  • Know your organization’s cybersecurity policies.
  • Use only approved devices for work.
  • Use a VPN to secure your internet connection.
  • Avoid downloading or clicking on unknown links in emails and beware of phishing scams.
  • Regularly update software and use antivirus.
  • Use strong passwords and enable multifactor authentication whenever it is possible.
  • Store working files only on company-authorized cloud storage.

A Quick Guide to Choosing The Right VPN for Work

When choosing a VPN, you should pay attention to 3 main groups of factors.

1) Security.

This includes the choice of encryption protocols, no-logs policy, and anonymous payment options.

Speaking about VPN protocols, each contains individual algorithms for encoding information. Each encryption protocol has its advantages and disadvantages and is usually a combination of three factors: speed, encryption strength, and complexity. The encryption protocol should be chosen depending on the user’s needs. For example, in a VPN for gaming, special attention should be paid to speed. When it comes to the VPN for remote work, security comes to the fore. It is currently accepted that the OpenVPN protocol provides the best protection without a significant loss of speed.

No-log policy allows the VPN provider to avoid collecting users’ data. This usually depends on the legislation of the provider’s country of registration. Do not believe the statements about the no-logging policy on the provider’s website, always additionally check its privacy policy.

The availability of anonymous payment options for the VPN is a good sign in favor of its reliability.

2) Coverage.

When choosing a VPN, you should pay attention to its server network and device compatibility. The larger the network of servers of the chosen VPN provider, the more connection options you will have without a negative effect on the speed. If the VPN works on all your gadgets, it will help you protect all devices with one subscription.

3) Price and reputation.

A reliable VPN provider should have a market price. Avoid offers that are too cheap and too expensive. Be sure to test the free VPN version before buying. If you use a reliable VPN provider, the free version will differ from the paid one only by the server coverage (the free version will have access to a limited number of servers) and rarely display ads. Ads are necessary to maintain the free VPN but keep an eye on the amount of it. You may find that a free VPN is enough for you, especially if you’re just starting your freelance career and expenses are a big deal.

In terms of reputation, check the reviews on the internet. Keep in mind that some VPN providers manipulate reviews about themselves and their competitors, so check only on reputable websites, such as Trustpilot.

Remote work has become deeply integrated into our lives and it looks like this trend is here to stay. Whether you work as a remote employee or take on projects on freelance marketplaces, don’t lose focus on cybersecurity. Remember that by ignoring basic security rules, you risk not only your sensitive data but also company information that may constitute a trade secret. The loss of such data entails large financial and reputational losses. So it’s better safe than sorry.