AS ATHLETES make their final preparations for the Olympics, tens of thousands of workers are set to work from home in a move to avoid the disruption.
While undoubtedly a welcome choice for many, such flexibility is not an option for everyone. From City trading floors to local service businesses, the complexity or sensitive nature of their systems and operations may not offer the luxury of a temporary relocation. But, with Olympic organisers warning that internet speeds may drop or, in severe cases, disappear altogether due to the sheer volume of data traffic, contingency plans are required.
The decision to offer remote working is not without risks. Working from home could leave sensitive data and systems exposed to hackers, state-sponsored espionage and malicious software. Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, highlighted the growing concern over such threats last month, warning that cybercrime could threaten “the intellectual property that underpins our future prosperity and the commercially sensitive information that is the lifeblood of our companies and corporations”.
Evans revealed that one London company suffered an £800m loss in the wake of an attack, with government estimates suggesting the annual cost of cybercrime to UK businesses could be as high as £21bn.
As real-life cases have shown time and time again, hackers go for easy targets, and the weakest link for all organisations are their people. Employers must, therefore, reinforce the importance of protecting data and ensure password policies and access controls are in place. Mobile devices, including laptops and memory sticks, should be encrypted, creating significant barriers if data falls into the wrong hands. The data privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, takes a dim view of cases where unencrypted data has gone astray, with one organisation recently required to sign an undertaking, after two memory sticks were stolen from the home of an employee.
While some staff may see the use of personal devices in the workplace as a “right”, many companies have implemented policies for the use of non-corporate hardware. With remote working comes the risk of blurring the well-defined boundaries of a physical office. Where there is no option but to allow staff to use smartphones and tablets, some fundamental rules should be put in place. The temptation to combine business with pleasure over a hot drink in the local Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop should be avoided. Back in the relative safety of home and the temporary workplace, smart-device users should stick to the major apps and app stores, as rogue apps could allow access to corporate networks. And by allowing family members to use corporate laptops for gaming, file sharing and casual surfing, risks are increased further.
Only by ensuring staff understand the issues and their individual responsibilities will employers be making the right steps towards addressing such risks.
Seth Berman is executive managing director and UK head of Stroz Friedberg .