Securing Data in Remote Work: Risks, Best Practices, and Strategies

Table of contents

Key Takeaways

  1. The prevalence of remote and hybrid work models amplifies the critical need for enhanced data and payroll security.
  2. Remote work introduces multifaceted cybersecurity risks, including endpoint vulnerabilities and phishing attacks, that jeopardize sensitive data.
  3. Employers can safeguard data through strategies like implementing robust remote work policies, utilizing secure technology, and performing regular audits.
  4. Continuous cybersecurity training and well-defined policies are vital to empower employees in recognizing and mitigating potential data security threats.

As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home and 28.2% work a hybrid model. These remote work statistics show that remote work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for companies to protect their data and stay vigilant against cyber security attacks, especially when it comes to payroll. Since processing payroll requires highly sensitive personal data, payroll security should be a priority. With payroll security as an ongoing business objective, you can limit serious issues that cost you time, money, and further issues down the line.

In the next several minutes, we’ll present the risks, best practices, and strategies for navigating cybersecurity in remote working models. However, before we can get into best practices, it’s important CFOs and upper management understand the need for putting resources into remote work data protection.

Why is remote work data protection so important?

Employees who aren’t familiar with data security issues may innocently click on a phishing link and expose the company to a massive data breach that leaks customers’ personal data. Not only would this lead to GDPR fines, but it could cause a drop in profits and reputational damage.

For finance teams, keeping data safe not only protects the money you pay employees, but it also ensures sensitive data (employees’ social security numbers, addresses, bank account information, and so on) don’t fall into the wrong hands.

As employees increasingly access payroll information from home, a remote work security strategy can keep finance data safe—especially when hackers are constantly finding new ways to breach security.

Identifying primary remote work security risks

When professionals work from the office, it’s much easier for cybersecurity or IT teams to maintain server security, update devices to stay current with data-protection methods, and monitor networks. Outside of the office, however, cybersecurity teams don’t have that same access, exposing themselves to threats such as:

A changing cybersecurity landscape shift

In the office, data is typically at rest, meaning it’s stored on a USB drive or on the computer’s hard drive. When professionals work remotely (accessing data through Wi-Fi, cellular, and so on), data is in transit. The more data is in transit, the higher the risks.

Endpoint Vulnerabilities

It’s common to get laptops and mobile devices stolen or lose them altogether, which gives hackers an opportunity to access the company’s data. By allowing workers to work remotely, companies increase the risk of intercepted data.

Phishing or social engineering

With automation and machine learning, cybercriminals can send out thousands of targeted phishing attacks to targets using customized language to lure them into sharing data that can impact your business’s ability to pay employees the correct amount on time.

Employees who aren’t well-versed in phishing schemes may click on emails with link-based attacks or attachments that carry viruses.

Insecure Networks

Remote workers can log in from anywhere as long as they have Wi-Fi. But when employees log into the company network using free Wi-Fi, it’s easy for hackers to access the data. For example, if hackers expose your company’s payroll information, employees could compare their benefits, salaries, and bonuses to other team members, resulting in lowered morale and conflict within the workplace.

Cybercriminals use a variety of tactics—such as the ones above—to gain access to personal and company data. Both can have detrimental impacts on employees and employers.

What are the threats employees and employers face with payroll security breaches?

One of the most harmful impacts of phishing attacks or payroll cybersecurity breaches on employees is gaining access to their passwords and ultimately, important data. If employees use the same easy-to-guess passwords for multiple platforms (including their personal apps or devices), scammers will not only be able to get into the company’s servers and payroll data, but their personal devices as well.

From there, hackers can access employee’s savings and checking accounts resulting in significant financial losses. Even worse, hackers can use the information to steal employees’ identities and commit serious crimes.

For employers, cyber attacks can result in reputational damage and financial losses. When customers or clients feel their data isn’t safe, they’ll no longer trust the company or do business with them, influencing others to distrust the company as well.

With such heavy risks, many businesses have changed the way they approach remote work data protection.

The impact of remote work on financial data security

Remote work has exposed businesses to hacking attempts once prevented by exclusively coming into the office. IT teams have had to consider the following when creating a plan to keep the business’s data safe:

  • New privacy considerations: understanding all the ways remote work can expose employee data privacy leads to fewer privacy breaches
  • Personal and professional boundaries: using a laptop or device for professional and personal reasons exposes the company and employee to additional risks
  • Regulatory compliance: remote work adds an additional layer to maintaining compliance with data protection regulations

Luckily, as hacks have increased, companies are becoming savvier in preventing harmful cyber attacks.

Ensuring payroll data security in remote work settings: best practices

Employers aren’t helpless against cyberattacks. Organizations can can confidently protect their company by:

  • Creating robust remote work policies: Building a comprehensive remote work policy should emphasize data security both for transit and at rest data, cyberattack strategies, and how to prevent them.
  • Carrying out thorough employee training: Using a variety of teaching methods (power points, false phishing drills, Q&As, and more) companies train employees on how to use payroll software and stress the importance of data protection for remote workers.
  • Using safe cloud storage and data backup: regular data backups of your payroll software and secure cloud storage solutions help protect and prevent data loss.
  • Opting for encryption software: encryption is an important part of preventing unauthorized access to company data. Make sure your payroll platform has certifications for the strictest data-protection policies
  • Utilizing corporate communication tools: IT can implement approved communication platforms that prevent data leakage and limit data access control.
  • Performing payroll security audits: payroll audits will require some company resources (such as time and effort), but they’re important for illuminating any gaps in payroll security. Examine finance team members’ day to day and assess whether there have been breaches in the past and how to prevent future attacks.

Many employees want the option to work remotely. By providing certain stipends and guidelines, organizations can make remote work easier on employees and management, while protecting the company’s data.

Enabling remote work through allowances and access policies

Remote work doesn’t need to leave the business exposed to payroll-related cyber attacks. By providing the following provisions and guidelines, management can ensure data stays safe:

  • Remote work allowances: each team across the organization may need specific tools. Allowances ensure they can spend their budget as needed. Ex. the IT team may need certain security tools to prevent unwanted access to their systems, while finance teams may require a quality payroll software with restricted payroll access to prevent hacks.
  • Access control policies: employees may unknowingly put the company’s network at risk by using computers outside of the office. Access control policies for payroll software—such as device authentication mechanisms—substantially reduce the possibility of threats, no matter where the employee views their payroll information.
  • Importance of remote access policy: a remote access policy educates employees on the need for payroll data protection and best practices. When companies carry out data safeguards, unsafe employee behaviour (and its repercussions) can be almost eliminated.

Access policies are a great place to start to make sure all teams get the right tools, but companies looking to protect their data also need to know how hackers specifically target hybrid workers.

Addressing the hybrid workforce’s cybersecurity challenge

With many companies using a hybrid workforce model, understanding and addressing cybersecurity challenges is a must for data protection. When developing a security strategy, employers may want to consider:

  • Employees’ increased use of cloud-based payroll applications during remote work
  • Workers’ need to access sensitive financial data remotely
  • The ways cyber attackers specifically target remote workers
  • How to monitor virtual workspaces
  • Employees’ various levels of security training or payroll system training

Employers can tackle all of the above hybrid challenges through extensive, regular payroll security training. They’ll want to keep employees up to date with the latest payroll security threats and how understanding how to use the payroll platform correctly can prevent attacks. Companies may also want to train employees to recognize phishing emails, create strong passwords, and know the risks of using public Wi-Fi networks.

Employers can also use other security solutions that are comfortable and easy for employees to use. For example, employees can use one-time passwords or authentication software’s where they need to access a generated code on another device. An additional option is to have all employees change their passwords to payroll software on a regular basis, once every two months or so.

No matter what employers choose, all finance-related technology should be vetted by IT or security teams to make sure it fits the company’s needs and allows employees to work safely outside of the office. Once they vet the software, IT teams will need to train employees on how to use it.

The Vital Role of Cybersecurity Training for Remote Finance Employees

Protecting the company from attacks is much easier when employees know they’re at risk. From cyberattacks to malware, organizations may want to conduct regular training for employees or develop remote access security policies for accessing sensitive payroll data, awareness around social media, how to use the relevant security technology and create strong passwords, how to detect phishing schemes, and more.

A remote access company policy can also help employees know what to do if they’re targeted so IT or security teams can address the risk right away. Through extensive training, employees and employers can work together to significantly decrease or prevent attacks.

A secure future for remote work payroll data protection

Hybrid policies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, which means protecting payroll data against cyber security attacks is likely an ongoing effort. Businesses can avoid costly repercussions such as non-compliant GDPR fines, dives in profit, and reputational damage by implementing robust payroll data protection measures that are remote-work friendly.

In addition, by getting the entire company onboard and teaching employees what to look for and how to report attacks, management can rest easy knowing sensitive data is safe no matter the worker’s location.

Of course, there’s an easier way to ensure compliance. Papaya Global complies with the strictest international security standards. All data is centralized on one platform, encrypted, and available only to those who need it. On Papaya Global, businesses can effortlessly defend their data. Sign up for a demo today.


How does continuous data protection work?

Continuous data protection works by saving a version of a file every time someone makes a change. Anyone can perform a backup and restore the file from the last working version. Continuous data protection protects companies against threats such as malware and ransomware.

How do you train employees for data security?

Regularly train employees on data concerns, challenges, and how to recognize or de-escalate attacks. Make sure employees are up to date on how to use security technologies and best practices for creating and storing passwords.

Finally, give employees a detailed protocol they can use for what to do if they’re caught in a cyberattack.

What is a remote access control policy?

A remote access policy is a plan that aims to keep corporate data safe from hackers, malware, and other cybersecurity threats while allowing employees to work remotely.

These policies often cover authentication, correct internet usage, network access, VPNs, and more. A remote access control policy helps companies respond as soon as possible to threats.