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Embracing Remote Work: Cybersecurity Best Practices for Financial Firms

Despite some recent pushback from business leaders and entrepreneurs, the remote work trend is still running strong at many organizations, including financial services firms. According to a report by Bloomberg, 66% of banks offer their employees some type of flexible working environment, and just 20% require workers to be in the office all the time.

Employees value remote work options because it allows them to skip the commute and work in a more comfortable environment. Some studies have even found that working from home may increase employee productivity

Still, remote work isn’t without risks, especially in the highly regulated financial industry. In this article, we’ll explore some best practices financial firms can take to ensure their remote workers are keeping their data secure and reducing risk to the company.

Establishing Endpoint Security

With the rise of remote work, endpoint security is more important than ever for financial institutions. As employees work from home, devices outside the traditional network perimeter have access to sensitive corporate and customer data and enterprise resources. 

If these devices become infected with malware, an attacker can exploit their remote access to attack the business directly. Financial services need solutions that enable them to prevent, detect, and respond to potential infections on their employees’ devices.

Firms can establish endpoint security by deploying antivirus and anti-malware software on all of their employees’ devices. Additionally, they should use policies such as restricting the type of applications that can be installed on work computers or remote networks, setting up two-factor authentication systems for logging in to accounts and encrypting data at rest and in transit.

Secure Remote Collaboration

Extended arrangements for remote work likely will require better tools and training on remote collaboration. Secure remote collaboration tools can help financial institutions keep data secure while collaborating in real time and breaking down barriers between remote employees. 

Financial firms should consider tools and services such as hosted virtual meetings, project management software, video conferencing solutions, cloud storage platforms, and secure messaging systems to enable remote collaboration without putting their sensitive data at risk. To ensure a safe work environment for remote collaboration, firms should also have a thorough policy in place for using these tools.

Employee Cybersecurity Training

Employees are often the weakest link when it comes to cybersecurity—especially remote employees who don’t have regular contact with IT staff or other security professionals. Financial services need to ensure their employees understand the dangers of cyber threats and how to protect themselves.

Financial firms should provide ongoing cybersecurity awareness training for employees, emphasizing details specific to a remote setting. This should include educating employees on how to identify phishing emails, how to use secure passwords, and how to secure their home networks.

Phishing emails are particularly pervasive in professional settings, as they exploit employees’ sense of urgency in the work environment to trigger data breaches. According to one study, “Employees were more vulnerable to phishing attacks when urgency principle was exploited.”

Employees who plan to work remotely in public areas need to ensure they aren’t accessing sensitive data or applications using public networks. Hackers and other threat actors can use unsecured networks like those at coffee shops and restaurants to access sensitive data while it’s being accessed.

Ideally, employees will only access restricted applications and documents while using a password-secured home network or another secure network established by the company.

Activity Monitoring

Employers should monitor employees’ remote work practices to ensure that they are following cybersecurity best practices and not engaging in risky behavior that could compromise the security of the organization. Some employees may feel that this is invasive, but it can be critical to maintaining security while working offsite.

Employees using company devices, such as laptops and smartphones, should expect company monitoring to be in place. That might include activity tracking, alerts for suspicious behavior, and even additional identity verification measures.

Organizations should also have incident response plans in place that can be triggered if a security breach is suspected or confirmed. Responders should have the ability to quickly identify affected users and systems, assess the extent of the damage, and take steps to prevent further breaches. 

Compliant Operating Environments

Financial firms should ensure that they are in compliance with regulations related to cybersecurity, such as the requirement to disclose cyber incidents within 36 hours to their regulators in the United States, if the incident could impact the US banking system. Remote employees must operate within the framework of these regulations, or the organization may face financial penalties and reputational damage. 

Firms should also ensure that their remote work environments are compliant with other requirements, such as those related to data protection and privacy. Data stored on devices used for remote work must be encrypted and secure; access must be restricted to authorized personnel only; and all data must be deleted when no longer required. 

Third-Party Security and Compliance

Remote work typically requires firms to leverage applications and infrastructure from third-party vendors. It’s important to remember that not every vendor meets the rigorous security standards of the financial service industry.

To ensure all third-party vendors are compliant with the firm’s cybersecurity standards, financial firms should conduct security assessments of potential vendors before entering into a contract. These assessments should include verifying the vendor’s security infrastructure, ensuring they have appropriate backups in place, and that they adhere to industry regulations related to cybersecurity. 

Finally, organizations need to ensure there is a comprehensive data-sharing agreement in place between them and their vendors that outlines each party’s responsibilities for protecting data and how any potential security issues should be addressed. 

Take Preventive Cybersecurity Measures in Your Remote Work Environment

Remote work can be a valuable tool for financial institutions, but it also requires extra attention to cybersecurity risks. 

The transition to remote work has introduced a unique set of cybersecurity challenges for financial services firms. By following these best practices, however, organizations can ensure their systems are secure while enabling the flexibility and mobility that a remote workforce requires. With the right tools and policies in place, financial services firms can maintain their stringent security standards while enabling remote work. 

The key is to take a holistic approach to cybersecurity, balancing the need for secure systems with the need for flexibility in an increasingly mobile world. With the right tools and policies in place, organizations can ensure their data remains safe and secure even when operating remotely. 

Contact us at OptionOne Technologies to learn more.