How to Provide a Secure Locked-Down Computer Environment for Remote Contractors
Author: Haziqa Sajid
Digital collaboration is enabling a new work culture among organizations, large or small. Statistics indicate that almost 20-25% of the U.S. workforce will work remotely by 2025. Remote work is becoming a more effective solution moving forward.
Many organizations are learning to cope with employee management in this new digital landscape. But with remote contractors, the rules are inherently different and present unique challenges.
One such challenge is taking security into account. Every new remote contractor hired is a possible access point for security breaches. While these concerns are not new, they’ve grown exponentially post-pandemic with the rise of remote work culture.
It’s crucial to ensure remote contractors execute company tasks using a secure, locked-down computer environment.
Here, we highlight the specific cybersecurity concerns that you must consider. We’ll also recommend the best practices your company needs to follow to ensure a secure working environment.
What is a Remote Contractor?
A remote contractor can be an individual or a third-party organization that is not directly on the company’s payroll. As the name suggests, such contractors are not working in your company’s physical office.
They might have their own office space or even be working from home. There’s no geographic restriction to where they can work from. Although your company can specify authorized locations for the contractor for security reasons.
Remote contractors do not get employee benefits. They are also responsible for filing their taxes. Although there’s no rigid definition of who can be a remote contractor, they usually fall under the following categories:
- Third-Party Companies
- An alternative to a Part-Time Employee
Cybersecurity Concerns When working with Remote Contractors
Hiring remote contractors comes with certain advantages. Being cost-effective is the primary advantage. But, this also opens the doors to all sorts of security risks.
With employees, there’s more control over protecting sensitive company data. You have control over monitoring activities through IT staff or company-provided devices. But remote contractors carry more risk as they might not be subject to the same vetting process.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, separate processes must be created. Below, we go into detail on what these processes can look like.
10 Best Practices to Follow to Ensure a Complete Lock-Down Environment for Remote Contractors
1- Create Effective Cybersecurity Policies
Companies tend to think that cybersecurity risks can be mitigated solely by using effective security software. And while that does work, it isn’t optimal. The truth is that company data can be stolen, leaked, or used for nefarious purposes if the right internal policies are not in place.
And this is just considering threats from outside hackers. The risks are more significant with remote contractors with official company data access. Internal policies and procedures in the form of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Data Protection policies must be enforced to counter this.
2- Avoiding the Use of Shared Accounts
Shared accounts hold access to valuable company data that should only be accessible to employees. Sharing company accounts with remote contractors makes you vulnerable to data leaks. It’s also wise to use trusted software that helps organize passwords to keep track of employee vs. remote contractor accounts. Check how to enable 2FA with V2 Cloud
3- Using 2-Factor Authentication
An often simple yet overlooked method of securing data is 2-Factor authentication. With in-house employees, you might have control over the monitoring process. But remote contractors might be operating from anywhere in the world.
There’s no telling what security measures are being taken on the other end. The remote contractor might have good intentions, but a lack of resources to use the best security measures might invite unwanted actors.
Making it a rule for remote contractors to use 2-Factor authentication decreases the risk of any data breaches. However,in-house employees should not be exempt from this rule. It’s best practice to use 2-Factor authentication for all company accounts.
4- Using Authorized Networks
Authorized networks help limit specific IP addresses from accessing your company’s IT infrastructure. CIDR ranges, which define the range of IP addresses allowed on your network, help act as a ‘filter’ to let only whitelisted IP addresses access your network.
Authorized networks are the perfect example of using a ‘locked-down’ computer environment. They help ensure remote contractors are only from regions authorized by your company.
5- Device Permissions
How to tell if the remote contractors have too much accessibility? It’s when they can use any device to access your company’s data. If possible, the best practice would be to provide company-owned laptops to contractors.
Doing so would limit what activities they can perform while accessing company data. It would also enable remote work monitoring and tracking for any suspicious activity. In addition, a recommended practice is to limit the number of devices allowed per user.
A pre-set agreement defining the number of devices allowed for the remote contractor would help clear this up in advance. You can set internal criteria for ‘trusted devices’ within the organization. It will ensure a remote contractor’s compromised device does not lead to a company data breach.
6- Defining the Method of Remote Access
Any user working remotely with your company will have 3 ways to do so:
1- Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN):
With a VPN, the remote contractor is given access to the company’s network through specified permissions.
A VPN encrypts/decrypts data transmission between the company and the remote contractor. The result is a secure line that restricts unwanted third parties from accessing communication between the company and contractor.
Of course, there are certain risks attached to this method. The primary is that if the remote contractor’s network is compromised, it could infect the company’s entire network.
2- Remote Computer Access
Remote computer access is possible in the form of a virtual desktop or application. The remote contractor could log in to the virtual office workstation remotely.
Remote access would thus ensure the company data remains in a controlled, locked environment. But still, it does create a point of access for any hackers looking to gain control over the company’s IT infrastructure.
3- Direct Software Access
A simple yet effective way to work with remote contractors is to provide them access to task-specific softwares. When a remote contractor is limited to using the company-provided software, it’ll dramatically limit any data compromise.
With direct software access, there’s no need to provide unnecessary access to data. In other words, the remote contractor is ‘sandboxed’.
Recommendation: Out of the three options, it’s clear using direct software access is the most secure method of conducting remote work.
But, the rich features that come with remote computer access are why many companies still opt for it as a solution.
The truth is, choosing from the three options should balance utility with security. In the end, matching internal requirements with this balance would be the most viable option.
7- Using In-house Human Resources for Oversight
Your in-house IT staff or an equivalent employee can monitor all activity related to remote contractors. Using human resources helps fill gaps that automated softwares might not be able to track effectively.
Filling all security-related gaps in this manner can help create an extra level of security. Human resources can also harmonize with automated softwares to make better sense of security-related data.
8- Create Training Programs for Contractors
Creating a training program can be quite beneficial, especially with remote contractors hired for long-term projects.
The truth is that remote contractors are not necessarily security professionals. They might be tasked to execute a company objective, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do anything with cybersecurity.
Take the example of a content creation team hired as remote contractors to create engaging content for the company. Such remote contractors with no background in cybersecurity might unintentionally share an infected file with your employees.
The results, of course, would be disastrous. For this reason, creating a training program, especially for remote contractors, helps ensure they’re aware of the necessary security practices that should be followed.
9- Using Encryption
One specific requirement to put out in your Service Level Agreement (SLA) and Data Protection Policies is the use of encryption. With remote contractors, data transfer might happen from anywhere in the world.
Encryption helps share that no unwanted third party can interfere in this communication. Several encryption methods can add an extra level of protection. Symmetric Key Encryption and End-to-End encryption are specific ways you can encrypt your data for remote contractors.
10- Perform Regular Audits
Besides ensuring the necessary security policies are in place, regular audits help track how well they’re working. Periodic audits can help keep track of all suspicious activity recorded over a certain period.
Data collected in this manner can further lead to actionable insights. For example, if a particular remote contractor is consistently being flagged for suspicious activity, your company can act and investigate the matter further.
Another example could be a company that uses many remote contractors. Audits could help reveal if suspicious activity originates from a specific region or related IP addresses. Again, your company acts on time and takes necessary precautions.
In addition, Advanced AI and ML tools also present the opportunity to perform predictive analysis and detect threats beforehand. Audits that leverage such methods can reveal what steps should be taken to ensure no data compromise can occur.
Final Wrap Up
So based on everything we’ve highlighted, we arrive at two main conclusions:
- The first is implementing a solid security policy structure that outlines all necessary precautions to be taken in advance. Entering into Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with remote contractors ensures they’re aware of all security measures they need to take as part of their contract with your company.
The policies can include asking the remote contractor to enable 2-Factor authentication, using company-verified devices, only working through whitelisted IPs, etc.
- The second part is performing regular audits and forming an oversight team to enforce these policies. Rules are of no use if there’s no one following them. Periodic reports forwarded to the relevant team can help track how effective these security policies are and if any changes are required.
This will ensure the remote contractor is working in a secure, locked-down computer environment. Here is V2 Cloud’s complete guide highlighting what an ideal remote team looks like and the steps you should take to make a smooth and secure transition. V2 Cloud’s virtual desktop can provide a secure locked-down computer environment for remote contractors. In the past, V2 has released a lot of updates for keeping data safe: all-inclusive UFW firewall for every virtual machine, encrypted connection, and antivirus real-time protection. In addition, V2 Cloud offers daily snapshot backups up to 21 days to ensure data is immune against ransomware. In the future, V2 will always insist on ensuring data security, and we will guarantee the absolute security of the computer environment for clients.