Give Your Business' Data Protection Processes a Coronavirus Health Check

By Sheena Chin

As employees continue to work from home at an unprecedented scale, how can corporate IT teams navigate unforeseen data protection challenges?

The coronavirus continues to dramatically affect everyday life and the global economy. As the uncertainty of the virus impacts workers in countries around the world, including Singapore, many businesses are still determining the best way to enable remote operations for vast numbers of employees and for longer periods of time. This is absolutely the case for the IT community.

Weeks ago, employees left the office with corporate data and assets, with IT teams having precious little time to prepare. Ideally, business continuity plans have been initiated, but that may not account for the current situation. For IT leaders, this situation, for some time, has been putting stress and strain on IT resources that must stay on top of their highly distributed workforce. Keeping productivity high and eliminating IT-led outages remain important priorities. They also need to ensure that data remains accessible and as secure as if employees were on-site within the corporate firewall.

To overcome avoidable mistakes during this unusual time, IT departments should evaluate whether the following steps have been implemented to ensure the health and security of business data.

Update IT policies and use tools for alerts about unusual activities
The influx of employees working at home increases the attack surface of organisations and raises their threat profile. Since February, security researchers have seen a spike in attacks that reached its peak over the past fortnight. IT leaders should take this time to re-evaluate and update IT policies to support a remote workforce. To counter attack threats, IT teams can also use tools at the organisation's disposal to set up alerts about unusual activities, such as permission changes, volume storage increases, and high volumes of data being moved. Mobile apps from these vendors can also make it easy to spot issues before they arise.

Share information with employees to reduce their chances of becoming a target
Right now when many are stressed and distracted, employees are more likely to fall for phishing scams. We are seeing that thousands of new domains and sites are being developed each day to host phishing attacks and lure unsuspecting victims into clicking links that download malware. IT teams should send employees a list of valid URLs for their reference, or use whitelists for any client-based content monitors. The more knowledge employees have, the less of a chance of them becoming a target.

Let employees know the ways that the IT department will communicate
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to communicate all the ways that the IT department can communicate with employees including the official channels that will be used (i.e. via a help desk system, content manager, specified email addresses or messaging systems, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams). It is not uncommon for malicious agents to try social engineering in these times by calling executive assistants, claiming to be IT and attempting to obtain password information under the guise of needing to reset executives’ passwords, for example. These acts are commonplace and could compromise the entire infrastructure.

Think about where you keep your backups and if that needs to change
It is common industry advice to adopt the ‘3-2-1’ rule when it comes to backups, which requires having at least three copies of your data (i.e. the original production data copy and two backups). The two backups should be on at least two different types of media with at least one backup offsite or in an immutable state (e.g. local disk and cloud).

Educate employees about how to conduct backups locally
If employees have the ability to restore their computer in the event of issues, it is critical they understand the importance of backing up their data properly, and what to do in the event of an issue. Communicate with them about how to conduct a backup, where to store files and when backups should take place to minimise negative effects on their live environments. It is also a good time to re-share the organisation's backup policy, so everyone knows what happens in the event of a major issue.

Ensuring local recovery tools are in place
For employees using their devices at home, without on-site IT support available, ensuring that local recovery tools are in place is crucial. This allows a remote worker to restore their laptop to a working configuration without external assistance. This usually involves creating a disk image of the core software on their computer that is stored in a separate place on the computer's hard drive. There are tools that allow this disk image to be centrally stored so that a restore can be done wherever an internet connection is present. The time it takes to make a copy is worth it for the cover it provides when an unexpected error or loss of connectivity to the company systems occurs.

Verify that copies can be trusted for data recovery
As you know, not every backup attempt is completed, and completed backups are not always reliable. IT teams need to ensure that copies are usable and can be trusted when data recovery is needed. This is done by testing the copies through a backup tool or console in the cloud. It is a worthwhile activity now, and a simple task for a member of the IT team to do remotely.

Adopt a file share system that is remotely accessible
If your organisation is not making use of, or does not have, a remotely accessible file share system or a cloud-hosted file exchange, now is still a very good time to fix this. There are high volumes of corporate data being shared on unsecured, unauthorised consumer services and platforms. The need for access to centrally-stored files and resources will not disappear after this period of homeworking is over. Hence, implementing a remotely accessible file share system will modernise your IT systems and help employees regardless of their location.

Identify file duplication
Another great task to do right now is check for file duplications. Wherever possible, use de-duplication and compression tools, and enable small file optimisation. Not only does this free up storage resources when new hardware cannot be purchased and installed, it improves the total cost of ownership of existing resources.

Rapid changes during this pandemic are continuing to influence how employees utilise internet-based technologies, as organisations reassess their long-term approach to remote working. If employees are not using corporate-issued devices with appropriate security policy provisions, the organisation's risk exposure will be magnified significantly. Similarly, without the right file sharing facilities in place, data siloes will be created on-premises or in the cloud.

IT teams that continue to adapt to the issues emerging as a result of this pandemic will also be positioned well to deal with other crises and uncertainties that may lie ahead.  

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