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7 Secure Remote Access Best Practices for Small Businesses

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Employees working outside an office often need access to their organization's networks. To ensure remote employees are productive while keeping sensitive systems and data secure, organizations need to balance access with cybersecurity best practices.

The good news is that it’s possible to implement secure remote access for employees. Keep reading to learn more about remote access best practices small businesses can use to protect their networks and thwart bad actors.

What is secure remote access?

Secure remote access encompasses all technologies and security processes that protect an organization’s systems, assets, and data against unauthorized access. 

In the aftermath of COVID-19 and the resulting shift to working from home, remote access security has become a prominent need for all organizations. By May 2020, 48.7 million people (about 35% of U.S. employees) had worked remotely at some point during the pandemic. Many of these workers required remote access to do their jobs.

Though many employees have recently returned to the office, many workers are still teleworking. In fact, 26 percent of employees worked remotely in 2022, and 40.7 million employees are expected to be telecommuting by 2025. 

Organizations must invest in secure remote access systems to accommodate these trends while keeping company networks and data secure.

Remote access systems and technologies

Luckily, there’s no shortage of technologies on the market designed to support remote access and enhance an organization’s cybersecurity stance.

Virtual private network (VPN)

A VPN creates a tunnel between a company’s network and an authorized user who wants to access that network. By logging into a VPN, employees can securely access data over an encrypted connection, preventing threat actors from intercepting that data. VPNs are especially beneficial for workers who connect to business networks over public WiFi networks (e.g., at a coffee shop or airport).

Endpoint security

Endpoint security is an approach to cybersecurity that focuses on better defending an organization’s endpoints — laptops, desktops, mobile devices, and printers — from harmful activity. By investing in endpoint detection and response (EDR) technology, organizations can continuously monitor all of their endpoints, automatically detect signs of compromise (e.g., malware and zero-day exploits), and notify relevant teams, which can then take swift action to resolve issues.

Identity and access management (IAM)

To ensure that authorized users can access the tools and data they need to do their jobs at the right times, smart organizations embrace the discipline of identity and access management (IAM). With a robust IAM solution in place, IT teams can manage all user permissions from one central location — ensuring bad actors can’t access critical resources.

Many IAM solutions support single sign-on (SSO), which enables users to securely log into multiple software systems with a single set of credentials. With an SSO solution in place, network security increases since fewer login credentials are available to exploit. As an added bonus, productivity increases, too, since employees only have to remember one set of credentials to access all the tools they need.

In an age where hackers increasingly launch attacks through compromised privileged accounts, more and more IT teams are embracing privileged access management (PAM), a subset of IAM that ensures only authorized users can access critical resources. With PAM technology in place, administrators can see which accounts have access to what resources, and what those accounts are doing in real-time. By automatically alerting IT whenever suspicious activity occurs, admins are able to take quick action as needed to maintain strong security and prevent bad actors from launching attacks from privileged accounts.

Zero trust network access

Zero trust network access (ZTNA) solutions are built on the principle of least-privileged access, or only giving users access to the resources necessary to do their jobs and nothing more. Since ZTNA treats all devices and traffic as potential threats, they’re more secure than VPNs. However, ZTNA solutions are considered part of a mature security model and require dedicated staff to roll out properly.

Network access control

Network access control (NAC) is an access management security solution that gives users access to a network based on specific criteria defined by an administrator. NAC mainly focuses on managing and enforcing security policies designed to protect networks and data through endpoint security systems.

Best practices to minimize remote access vulnerabilities

In addition to implementing technologies for secure access, consider the following best practices to improve your cybersecurity posture.

1. Multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) involves adding an extra layer of protection to an organization’s login protocols to increase security. With MFA, after a user enters their credentials, they’ll need to complete another verification step — like entering a one-time passcode that’s texted to their smartphone or confirming their identity with biometrics.

MFA is one of the most effective ways to protect business-critical systems and accounts that contain sensitive data and personally identifiable information (PII). By rolling out MFA across your organization, it becomes that much more difficult for threat actors to gain unauthorized access.

2. Encryption

Encryption is the process of converting plain text data into unreadable cipher text that can’t be interpreted by a human without a proper encryption key. As a result, even if a threat actor accesses the encrypted data, they won’t be able to make sense of it. 

For the best results, organizations should encrypt data at rest and in transit. By doing so, unauthorized users can’t utilize an organization’s sensitive data, even if they gain access to it.

3. Password strength

Implementing strong password policies is key to ensuring secure remote access for employees. After all, weak passwords — think “password” and “12345” — can give threat actors easy access to an organization’s sensitive information. What’s more, hackers also have an easier time infiltrating networks when employees reuse the same passwords across dozens of services, like LinkedIn, Facebook, their bank account, and their business email, regardless of how complex those passwords are. 

Organizations should enact password policies that require employees to set unique, complex passwords. It’s best practice to either use randomly generated passwords that are long and include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols or come up with randomly generated passphrases, like PleaseComeOverForSupperTonightIfYouWantSteak.

Worried your team might forget complex passwords or passphrases? You can always roll out a password manager solution, like 1Password or Dashlane, to manage passwords on their behalf. Such tools store credentials in a digital vault, enabling users to sign into accounts with the click of a button instead of forcing them to remember complex passwords or passphrases.

4. Software updates 

Applications and systems that don’t have the latest software updates have more problems than limited capabilities. Outdated systems can put an organization’s data and network at risk, as bad actors often look to exploit out-of-date technologies. Equifax’s 2017 data breach reportedly occurred because the company failed to install a software upgrade, and hackers gained entry.

These days, malware attacks are on the rise, with more and more malware variations regularly appearing. By proactively ensuring all software, hardware, and network infrastructure stays up to date with the latest security features, organizations can increase the chances their systems work as designed while making it that much harder for bad actors to gain entry.

5. Access management

While all employees need some sort of access to company networks, not everyone needs the same level of access to resources and applications. A systems administrator, for example, should be able to access more resources than an entry-level employee. By prioritizing IAM and reviewing privileges regularly, organizations can reduce the chances hackers exploit an over-privileged account — or that a rogue employee accesses data they’re not supposed to.

6. Security training

An organization can have all the security solutions in the world. But that means little unless its employees are well-versed in remote access best practices. 

To this end, small business owners should consider hosting regular security training sessions to keep teams updated on the latest security protocols. These sessions can cover topics like the importance of setting complex passwords, what to do if they’re on the receiving end of a phishing attempt, and other security best practices. When every employee is aware of the organization’s remote access security protocols, data is much safer.

7. Frequent risk assessments

Conducting frequent risk assessments — at least once a quarter — is one of the most effective ways to secure an organization’s networks. 

During a risk assessment, small business owners can study all aspects of their networks and infrastructure to identify and analyze any vulnerabilities posing threats to their organization’s network. Once that’s done, they can determine what corrective steps they can make to further improve cybersecurity. 

While a risk assessment can cover an entire organization’s systems, there are also assessments or audits specific to remote services. Through these analyses, organizations can actively monitor for risks that could lead to future problems and swiftly address them.

Attune About Background

Coalition offers comprehensive solutions to protect your organization from digital risk. All Coalition policyholders access active monitoring and 24/7 security support, all included as part of your policy. 

Coalition Control is our risk management dashboard, complete with active monitoring software and personalized recommendations to improve an organization’s security posture. Available in Control, Coalition’s Cyber Risk Assessment provides organizations with a personalized risk profile and actionable steps to improve its cyber risk score. Control also features on-demand rescanning for organizations looking to resolve vulnerabilities and lower their score after receiving a risk assessment.  

To learn more about how Coalition can protect your small business — or how your brokerage can help your small business clients defend against threat actors — contact us today.