Workplaces have now widely embraced the phenomenon of digital transformation with open arms. The increased interconnectivity and real-time collaboration opportunities that exist now – largely instigated by huge shifts in increased remote working due to COVID-19 – bring many benefits to businesses across a whole range of sectors.
However, despite the productivity and efficiency improvements that businesses can see via automation and technology, they themselves are prone to a plethora of emerging cyber security risks and threats. It’s a natural consequence of becoming deeply in the digital space.
Digitisation Paves the Way for Targeted Cyber Attacks
As more businesses become digitised, employee, client and vendor data transitions into the cloud, and paper-based processes are entrusted to software and algorithms. Not only that, but workers are increasingly more spread out across the country (and beyond in many cases) due to shifts in remote and flexible working. This only underlines why extra care must be taken when ensuring data integrity and stability.
Therefore, any captured sensitive, financial or personal information must be safeguarded with extra precautions. Robust cyber security and awareness strategies must be implemented to ensure this information doesn’t get divulged to the public unscrupulously, or fall into the wrong hands. Businesses must strike a solid balance between educating employees on stronger threat awareness and implementing robust cyber incident response solutions to isolate and contain threats before damage is done.
Here, we examine practical steps that business professionals can take to implement cyber security practices that protect workers’ privacy and uphold safety standards across distributed workforces.
What Threatens the Digital Space?
While cyber threats are not new, the proliferation of remote and hybrid working models has created new vulnerabilities that teams must address. To protect worker health and safety, prevent legal and regulatory fines, and safeguard a company’s reputation, risk awareness is imperative.
Below are just a handful of the evolving types of cyber threats that could permeate a business at any given moment:
- Data breaches can expose various types of sensitive information. This includes personal details of staff, information of the company’s clients and customers, as well as intellectual property and working product models. Given the increasing amounts of personally identifiable data stored digitally in cloud storage apps and services, the likelihood of breaches is higher. Identity theft, financial fraud, and other types of crime that could jeopardise safety become more likely and lead to hefty fines for companies that fail to safeguard it.
- Ransomware attacks paralyse operations and pose a severe financial risk to businesses. Malware that encrypts systems until a ransom is paid can grind productivity to a halt, and leave companies with no alternative but to pay in favour of hackers leaking information to the public or the dark web. Many UK SMEs have even faced rapid dissolution following a ransomware attack.
- Phishing scams instigated via email or SMS can lead to compromised accounts, stolen data and fraudulent activity. Unsuspecting employees may innocuously and inadvertently share login credentials or passwords, enabling cybercriminals to infiltrate systems and execute targeted attacks internally.
- DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks overwhelm business servers and lead to extended periods of downtime. This can profoundly impact eCommerce sales, causing disruption and delays to orders. While servers are out of action, attackers can exploit vulnerabilities while users and resources are allocated elsewhere, putting data at risk.
- Brute force attacks are targeted attempts at accessing shared systems and logins through repeated username and password combinations. Attackers initiate bots to execute numerous attempts until access is granted, which is made easier due to lax, insufficient password policies and reusing them across logins. Better care must be taken to ensure passwords are strong, unique and not reused.
These are just some of the many threats that could harm people’s livelihoods or endanger them directly. Data breaches, exploited vulnerabilities and compromised systems jeopardise sensitive or financial information that’s stored in the cloud, while phishing, malware and ransomware disrupt operations and hold companies accountable.
Any type of cyber attack that could pose a threat to people’s data and job security, whether the result of business negligence or not, undermines its credibility and damages its reputation, sometimes beyond repair.
Therefore, proactive cyber security awareness, training and strategies are essential components for businesses to implement, certainly as far as health, safety and integrity are concerned.
How Can Businesses Enhance Cyber Defences to Improve Health and Safety?
While no organisation is ever immune to cyber threats, the best way to fight cybercrime is to prioritise creating a robust security strategy that can suitably protect employee and customer welfare. The old adage that the best defence is a good offence is particularly poignant when addressing the health and safety risks of cyber security.
So how can firms implement a cyber strategy that suits their organisation and mitigates these evolving risks with confidence?
Health and safety teams should champion cyber initiatives that:
- Safeguard personal data like employee records and customer information with regular backups stored on secure, encrypted servers.
- Deploy enterprise-grade antivirus, firewalls and internet protection controls that can isolate and prevent the spread of ransomware. These attacks could disrupt operations or critical infrastructure that ensures physical security, so don’t take the easy, cheap route with software that won’t cut it.
- Fortify collaborative cloud apps and remote access to reduce phishing risks. Delegate access strategically, by following principles of least privilege and validate all requests via multi-factor authentication (MFA), such as biometric verification or one-time-passwords (OTPs) sent to email addresses or personal devices.
- Segment internal networks and restrict access to the most sensitive systems. Deploy secure, centrally-controlled virtual private networks (VPNs) to remote working teams, so access can be granted to shared files without inhibiting productivity.
- Forge partnerships with cyber incident responders who can mobilise infrastructure, systems or networks within minutes. Their emergency containment capabilities isolate threats and provide much-needed visibility to unknown vulnerabilities.
- Provide guidance to remote workers on safeguarding devices, avoiding public and unsecured WiFi spots, and securing home networks. Improved cyber hygiene when working autonomously can enhance enterprise security and stability all around.
- Work diligently to create a culture of continual cyber awareness and vigilance. Deploy regular, ongoing training on best cyber security practices and test employee knowledge frequently. As most cyber breaches occur due to human error, it’s imperative that companies cultivate a firm that openly takes information privacy and safety seriously.
These are just some of the strategies that businesses can adopt to ensure a stronger baseline level of defence. They collectively provide a solid starting point for health and safety professionals to begin making concentrated efforts to strenthen defences in a digital-first business environment.
Making cyber security intrinsic to workplace safety governance demonstrates an organisation’s duty of care, and instils greater confidence in the firm’s ability to safeguard data from prospective clients, staff and suppliers alike.
An Essential Safeguard for Worker Welfare
As this guide highlights, cyber security must become an integral part of every firm’s strategy to preserve data and maintain solid health and safety standards. Prioritising cyber defence demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to fulfilling its duty of care for employee welfare in the digital age. It ultimately enables a distributed workforce to safely focus on their core jobs, not cyber threats.
Implementing the practices outlined here provides a foundation that businesses can work on to ensure complete health and stability among their workforce.