Accessing a work computer over the internet is a common way to work from home with little disruption. With entire computer systems in the balance, though, keeping everything secure is paramount.
Solutions like remote access software provide a way for people to stay connected to their office computers. Besides allowing access to remote devices, remote desktop access software gives IT professionals direct control to address technical problems, allows for remote printing and lets remote employees access files from a company network. While these capabilities are essential for employees who work remotely, it's important to consider just how safe and secure remote PC access really is.
Potential remote access risks
Whether you use a computer exclusively for work or also for personal use, it's likely that you have sensitive data stored on it. This is the main reason why giving up control to someone else over the internet sounds so dangerous. With the right precautions, though, remotely accessing another computer or letting someone else access your device can be a great tool in your arsenal.
It's easy to grow complacent when you use this tool daily, but be aware that scores of individuals around the internet are looking for ways to access sensitive data for nefarious uses. Since remote access software requires some input on your part, it's important for you to know who you're providing access to and understand the circumstance in which that access is granted. Giving an unknown person remote access to your computer is like giving a stranger on the street the keys to your home – they may not be malicious, but why take the risk?
2. Network access
The risk gets even more severe if remote access software is used to access your business's entire network. Without proper protections in place, an outside entity could gain access to all the computers connected to that network, leaving company assets and sensitive customer data up for exploitation. This is why remote access security frequently includes network design elements. When networks are segregated into isolated sections, any access breach is limited in what harm it can cause.
3. User error
Many data breaches in major companies happen because employees do not practice safe habits. Employees with remote access can accidentally invite cybercriminals into a network, who then wreak havoc. In even worse cases, bad actors within the employee ranks can create deliberate risks and problems. One of the most important components of digital security is training and screening employees to prevent these issues.
4. Too many devices
Every remote access device has to be vetted and secured. When too many devices overwhelm your IT assets, the propensity for mistakes and oversight rises. One of the greatest risks is when individuals use unvetted devices for remote access. This essentially bypasses your existing security measures and undoes all of your efforts.
Vetting devices is essential. One of the best ways to do that is to require every device to undergo a security audit before it is given access credentials. MAC filtering and IP profiles create automated security layers that prevent unvetted devices from gaining access.
Editor's note: Looking for employee monitoring software for your business? Complete the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
Best practices to avoid remote access security risks
When you use a remote access solution, the biggest risk will always be the possible vulnerability of your computer, network and any sensitive data stored within it. You are the one of the most important aspects of your digital security – the passwords you set, the antivirus software you employ, and how you connect to the internet. While most of today's top vendors pride themselves on ensuring a secure connection from one machine to the other, there are things you can do to stymie potential intrusions and keep your efforts safe and productive.
Here are seven things you can do to use your remote access software safely and bolster your security.
1. Practice strong digital security measures.
Weak passwords for online accounts are a major security risk for a reason. Since most remote access software asks users to sign in to the program to start a new session, you should ensure you have a strong enough password to protect your credentials. When possible, you should also implement two-factor authentication, which will require anyone logging in to your account to provide further proof that they are who they say they are.
2. Consider an account lockout limit.
If you're an administrator of the software for your company, you can set an account lockout policy, locking a user out of an account if they enter the wrong password a certain number of times.
3. Use a firewall.
Remote access software works by creating a virtual connection from one computer to another. If an intruder manages to intercept that connection, they could quickly gain access to one or both machines. Firewalls constantly check the digital traffic in and out of a network, blocking any connection that doesn't meet security parameters.
4. Keep your software up to date.
Software updates may seem like annoying wastes of your time, but you should not ignore their reminders. Many software updates address security weaknesses in a program's code, so without those fixes in place, an intruder could gain access to your device. Failing to update your software not only robs you of possible performance boosts or new features, but it could also leave your machine vulnerable to outside attacks, malware or viruses.
5. Set remote access limits.
If your company relies on multiple people gaining remote access to systems, you should limit the number of people with that capability. Administrators can also make it so only a trusted device can gain access.
6. Consider a VPN.
Though this option will add another cost to your remote access budget, it's one of the most secure ways of handling the software. A VPN, or virtual private network, is separate from regular internet connections, so it's significantly secure compared to your average internet connection. Employing a VPN in conjunction with a remote access solution will allow your employees to safely connect to a network or device without fear of detection by someone else trying to gain access.
7. Avoid public Wi-Fi.
If you're using a remote access solution out in public, never connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Though tempting, they are extremely insecure by nature and prime locations for a tech-savvy troublemaker to gain access to your data. If you absolutely must connect to public Wi-Fi for remote access, at least do it through a VPN.
Choosing the right remote access software solution
Though they do similar things, remote access solutions are not all the same. One option may fit your company's needs better than another. Also take stock of every computer and mobile device that will remotely connect to the remote access solution to make sure they're all compatible and secure.
Our remote PC access software review highlights key features to keep in mind when looking into a solution for your company. One factor to consider carefully is whether you need a solution that's always on and accessible at all hours. Though this may be convenient for your employees, it could leave your systems vulnerable to some extent, since you aren't likely to monitor who's connecting to the system outside of your operating hours. Other features to look for include a chat function for users, reporting measures to track who accesses the system and when, and various software integrations that can bring major features from other business software into the fold.
As security is paramount with remote access solutions, pay special attention to each vendor's security measures. Though the industry generally employs 128-bit encryption, many companies opt for the more stringent 256-bit AES method. Compliance with major legal guidelines like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Payment Card Industry (PCI) and Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) 16 are also common measures.
As businesses become more amiable toward remote work, implementing a remote access solution could be a commonsense decision. With a close eye on security measures and a strong understanding of the technology's risks, your business can make remote work easier without putting your systems in jeopardy.