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On the Security and Privacy Challenges of Virtual Assistants

security challenges

Cybercrime, security breaches, ransomware attacks, scams, hacks, and stolen data. The headlines abound, and with the increase in remote work, privacy and security threats have also increased. But the headlines are not the whole story. Risks exist, but you can meet these security challenges by understanding a few fundamentals and implementing a few best practices.

Remote work environment benefits were discovered by many over the last two years as employees moved to work from home arrangements. In addition, outsourcing has made virtual assistants a vanguard of remote work. The security challenges in these situations do not need to outweigh their benefits, even for small and mid-sized businesses. When it comes to the digital workplace developing a risk-based security strategy can help identify vulnerabilities and determine solutions. IT teams along with remote employees and outsourced contractors can work together to maintain any size company’s privacy and security.

Let’s pinpoint:

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Common Remote Work Security Challenges
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Remote Work Security Best Practices
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Virtual Assistant Privacy and Security Challenges

Common Remote Work Security Challenges

Maintaining privacy and security is a top concern for companies, whether employees work remotely or not. Security issues with working remotely may become more complex, but the foundations of mitigation remain the same. A fundamental understanding of these remote working security risks is the first step to determining solutions.

Public WiFi Networks

Accessing sensitive data through vulnerable home wireless networks invites malicious actors to spy on connections, leading to cybercriminals intercepting unencrypted data and stealing sensitive information for profit.

Weak Passwords

Private data can be accessed and stolen when hackers crack account passwords. Frequently used, weak, or repeat passwords are vulnerable to attack, leading to data breaches and identity fraud.

Email Scams and Phishing

Email phishing is still the number one form of cyberattack. Emails sent to an inbox that appear to be sent by a legitimate source trick recipients into giving login credentials and privileged information, leading to data theft, identity fraud, and ransomware and malware attacks.

Internet Exposure

Exposing data through the internet can lead to ransomware, malware, and virus attacks. Ransomware cuts off access to computers and files. Viruses and malware damage, delete and steal files. Exposure is costly and can cripple operations, sometimes for months.

Cybersecurity risk management helps prevent these breaches by correcting negligent security infrastructure, implementing fundamental IT tools, and educating workers as partners in prevention.

Remote Work Security Best Practices

Remote working security risks can be diminished with work from home cyber security best practices. Employing preventative measures magnifies the benefits of the digital workplace and shrinks the risks.

Risk and Security Management Essentials

 

FIREWALLS

Acting somewhat like traffic cops, firewalls monitor network traffic and block unwanted traffic from reaching a remote endpoint. An endpoint detection and response (EDR) system remotely prevents next generation malware and data leakage. It prevents potentially damaging emails from getting into a user’s inbox. System administration can also manage software installation and patches.

VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORKS (VPN)

Securing remote connectivity through Virtual Private Networks (VPN) helps address security issues with working remotely. A VPN allows a remote worker to securely connect to a shared network by masking the IP address and encrypting the connection. This makes it difficult for intruders to find workers or intercept data.

TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION (2FA)

By adding an extra step to the login process, 2FA is an effective solution to cyber security risk. In addition to a password, a user uses a verification code when logging in, drastically reducing security challenges.

ENCRYPTION

Encryption methods are essential to security risk management. Encrypting emails disguises their content, making it possible for only the email recipient to see transmitted information. Using an encrypted password management system allows access but conceals the actual password.

DATA STORAGE

Basic security rules governing data storage include:

  • Keeping database backup secure and accessed locally
  • Testing to ensure data usability
  • Scheduling routine maintenance checks 

PROTECTIVE SOFTWARE

Install antivirus, malware, ransomware, and spyware protection for all company computers. Paid versions are recommended because of robust functionality and auto update capabilities.

Reliable software includes:

  • McAfee
  • Norton 360
  • TotalAV
  • Intego
  • Panda
  • Bullguard 

COMPANY COMPUTERS ONLY

Employees using personal computers for work opens up huge security and privacy holes.

IT RISKS:
  • Confidentiality, trade secrets, and proprietary information.
  • Information loss when an employee leaves the company.
  • Data integrity when transferring files from a work computer to a personal computer.
  • Wider security holes by making updating software and installing patches difficult. 

The best rule of thumb is for employees to only use company computers when doing company work. If budget or logistic restraints prevent the use of company computers, ensure the use of a desktop computer with VPN and 2FA procedures in place. The computer should also be equipped with protective software.

EMAIL

In addition to firewall protection, employees offer another line of defense in protecting email from phishing scams.

EMPLOYEES NEED TO:
  • Read emails carefully.
  • Look for details that appear out of place.
  • Trust when something doesn’t feel legit.
  • Contact IT if an email is suspicious.
  • Separate work email from personal email. 

PASSWORDS

Passwords can be troublesome when it comes to security challenges, but simple steps go a long way. 

STRATEGIES INCLUDE:
  • Updating passwords regularly (every quarter)
  • Create robust passwords with numbers, letters, and symbols
  • Require long random passwords
  • Use a password manager that encrypts the login information. (More on password managers later).

Policies and Education

EMPLOYEE EDUCATION

Educating employees with straightforward, in-depth policies that outline the rules, responsibilities, and consequences of non-compliance helps put everyone on the same page about security challenges. Security risk management is undermined when employees do not understand the reasons behind the rules and are not given the tools to follow them responsibly. The goal is to safely share the information necessary for work while maintaining the integrity of the data.

Cyber security policies should:

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Outline parameters of remote work
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List approved tools and platforms
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Provide clear instructions to follow if an account is compromised
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Define confidential business information and trade secrets
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State the consequences of leaking information
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Explain what constitutes improper use of intellectual property

NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS (NDA)

An NDA is a legal contract that outlines confidential material, knowledge, and information that will be shared between two parties but is restrictive to third-party disclosure. NDA’s should be well-constructed with specific details.

SECURITY RISK ANALYSIS

Cyber security risk management includes regular internal audits and third-party testing.

A third-party offers an objective, unbiased view of your risk and security management. With a different skill set and an external view, expert testers detect security gaps, poor methods, and system misconfigurations. They challenge cyber-defense systems in ways an internal audit cannot and are much cheaper than paying for the effects of a breach.

About Data Privacy Virtual Assistant Challenges

Virtual assistants deal with sensitive information through administrative processes, customer support, and data entry. For virtual assistants, privacy and security concerns can be addressed with preventative measures that protect both virtual assistants and data privacy. It is in the best interest of both the VA and the employer to have a clear virtual assistant privacy policy in place.

Virtual Assistant Security Measures

  • Become educated on different types of viruses, malware, and ransomware and install the best anti-software that fits your requirements.
  • Understand the data breach protocol for your client
  • Understand the general data protection regulation (GDPR) for both countries
  • Notify client immediately if a breach is suspected
  • Understand the granted access and policies on privileged information
  • Use trusted cloud services for backup
  • Use a secure phone for client call logs
  • Install a password manager

Here’s More on Password Managers

Password managers provide encrypted passwords for logging into a corresponding website. It provides secure passwords for virtual assistants and adds layers of protection for both the VA and the client. There is no reuse of a password and no memorization. VA can navigate to websites but has no direct access to the master password. The level of access is determined by the client. Programs include LastPass, Password, and Dashlane.

These managers can also store:

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Secure notes
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Bank information
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Social media channels
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Credit card information
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Email accounts

For virtual assistants knowing what data you have access to and how often is important to understanding the processes and protocols around maintaining data security and privacy.

For start-up and small to mid-size companies this can be a lot to track, especially if you do not have a dedicated IT department or security resource. If you are going to leverage a virtual assistant through an agency make sure they provide you with security support to protect the integrity of your business online.

Ask your agency:

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What security protocols do you have in place to protect privacy?
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How do you train or instruct your VA’s in following a company’s security policies?
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What is your escalation process for an IT support issue?
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Who will be our main point of contact involving security concerns?
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Do you have experience in the systems or software we use?

Reducing the Risk of Remote Work

Privacy and security challenges do not have to be barriers to reaping the benefits of working virtually. With a proper understanding of cyber security risks along with the implementation of fundamental digital workplace solutions, virtual assistants and company employees working from home can be partners with a company’s IT support professionals. Together they can rise to these security challenges and mitigate a company’s risk.