By Nathan Sykes
Businesses today rely on data for everything. Data helps us engage in useful analytics and longer-term strategizing. From a business perspective, the word “data” can also refer to the cloud of documents, images and other digital assets your teams share in the office and out in the field to get their jobs done.
But with all of this in-transit and stationary data flowing through your organization, it’s important to keep it ordered, organized, up-to-date and hidden from prying eyes. We’re not here to recommend specific software ecosystems or productivity tools, but we did think the time was right for some suggestions about better ways to ensure the data you need is at your fingertips when you need it — and under lock and key whenever you don’t.
Local Workstations and Networks
Some security safeguards are so easy to set up that we frequently neglect to do so. One example is your fleet of local workstations in the office. Securing these machines from attempts at theft or tampering starts with strong password protection for user accounts — but that’s not the end of it.
According to Microsoft, and common sense, “privileged access workstations” are vital if you want to protect access to sensitive company assets — including troves of financial and even personal data. Use dedicated workstations for specific high-level tasks and set up both general user accounts and admin accounts for your decision-makers, administrative staff and anybody else tasked with handling sensitive data throughout their day.
Another critical piece of advice as you expand or make other changes to your machines and infrastructure? Perform regular testing of your networks to ensure any changes to your IT equipment and architecture haven’t introduced new types of vulnerabilities.
Satellite Locations and Telecommuters
Getting away from the immediate surroundings of the office, we move on to satellite business locations, remote workers and telecommuters. Not all of your devices and workers are stationary. In fact, in 2016, about 43 percent of U.S. workers indicated doing at least some of their work from home. That means the work being done for you could be happening anyplace: in coffee shops, in home offices and on airplanes.
For this degree of mobility, a virtual private network (VPN) is non-negotiable. Home Wi-Fi networks may or may not have every possible safeguard set up to the average security-minded employer’s satisfaction, but VPNs can provide an additional layer of protection and anonymization whenever workers need to handle workflows or documents while on the move or send assets through unsecured channels.
VPNs can provide protection through obfuscation, but they can also help in another way: by setting up a company VPN, you can give remote workers the ability to “tunnel in” to the company network to retrieve files, collaborate and communicate. It’s a secure way to ensure everybody — whether they’re in the office or working from another location — can work from the same set of files and data.
Mobile Devices and BYOD Culture
Our world is now mobile-first. That brings a lot of conveniences, but it also introduces the real and present risk of device loss and theft. One wants to believe the world is full enough of Samaritans that a left-behind work laptop would make its way home eventually. But for those times when it doesn’t, there’s disk encryption.
This is a feature you may have heard about and deployed on a personal device. The benefits of enabling disk utility on a personal device, according to Apple, include rendering the data on the drive useless to anybody besides you who might wind up with that device physically in their possession. Microsoft’s Azure provides tools for enabling disk encryption on the Windows and Linux-based machines your office uses, too.
Mobile devices are also helping BYOD — bring your own device — culture take off in the workplace. When employees can perform their work on devices they’re already familiar with, it can have a positive influence on productivity and morale. However, this doesn’t come without risks to your sensitive company data.
Step one for securing personal and company data on personal devices is ensuring employees have password-protected the lock screen of their phone or tablet. Step two involves navigating to the Settings app and finding any relevant Security settings that might apply to you. For example, Apple devices have the option to wipe the onboard memory after a number of failed password attempts.
Most devices these days also have some kind of geolocating feature. If you set these features up ahead of time and hold a training session to walk your employees through doing so, you’ll have the means to either:
• Locate work devices when they go missing
• Rest assured that the data will “self-destruct” if it appears somebody is trying to hack their way in
Make Your Favorite Tools More Secure
Your company probably already had certain apps, tools and devices that you favor over others, and you’ve probably found lots of ways to turn them toward realizing your organization’s goals and remaining productive. With these suggestions, you can continue toward those goals in the knowledge that your whole company can work from the same assets and data sets, no matter where they are — and do so securely and safely, too.
Nathan Sykes is founder of Finding an Outlet, where he writes about the latest in technology and business news and advice.