Remote work and what it means for cybersecurity

Now that we appear to be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel for the global COVID-19 pandemic, many countries are opening their economies back up for business and employers are making decisions as to when and how they should bring their workforces back to the office.

When the pandemic first hit many businesses had to suddenly shift to wide scale remote work, without proper plans or technologies in place for how they would handle new cybersecurity challenges across a dispersed workforce. Now that some are beginning to return to work as normal, employers are deciding how to create and implement more formal work-from-home policies for the future, which is leading to some tough decisions.

The rise of remote working

Before the pandemic, only 7% of workers in the U.S. had the ability to work from home. Now after working remotely for more than a year, surveys show that 61% of white collar workers say they want to continue to work remotely indefinitely and more than half of employees would like to work from home at least three days a week. When it comes to the call center industry specifically, as much as 80% of contact center agents have been working from home during the pandemic. At the same time, contact center agents have been busier than ever - conversation volume in heavily-impacted industries like airlines and hotels increased 96% and 130%, respectively, during the pandemic.

One of the biggest challenges that businesses faced during the initial shift to remote work was how to properly handle the increased cybersecurity risks that a distributed workforce faces. This is especially true for employees like contact center agents, customer care representatives and salespeople, who regularly accept payments and handle sensitive customer information as part of their jobs. When these roles are working from home, a number of new cybersecurity risks can be potentially introduced to the environment. For example, an employee's home Wi-Fi network may not be secure. They may have Internet-connected devices and smart speakers like Alexa or Google Home in their houses that can not only listen to and record conversations, but are also susceptible to being hacked. Or, they may simply have housemates also working from home who could eavesdrop on phone conversations when agents are taking down payment card numbers and other sensitive details. It becomes increasingly challenging for businesses to ensure that their employees are following cybersecurity and data security best practices in their home environments.

Consumer sentiment towards remote working security practices

Yet interestingly, in our own recent survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, the majority of respondents (60%) said that the increase in contact center agents working from home has not negatively impacted their trust in the security of their personal payment information during transactions. The survey also revealed that consumer perceptions of security differed significantly based on the channel they were using to make purchases, pay bills or conduct other transactions. Whereas 39% of respondents said they are comfortable completing a transaction and reading their payment card details aloud over the phone, only 25% said they would feel comfortable sharing their payment card information with a business via its social media channels

Though the majority of respondents in our survey said the rise of remote work did not increase their security concerns, it is important for businesses to remember that a not insignificant 40% did have concerns. With the likelihood that contact center agents, customer service representatives and other employees will continue to work from home - at least occasionally - for the foreseeable future, organizations will need to factor cybersecurity into their remote working programs. To develop consumer trust across all channels, organizations should reveal what steps they have taken to protect customer data amid this new, remote-working landscape. They should detail the cybersecurity technologies and policies they have adopted in order to ensure customers' sensitive data and personally identifiable information (PII) is being handled securely - especially when it comes to payments.

Secure sensitive customer data - regardless of location

One of the most effective ways to ensure that customers' sensitive payment card data and other PII is secure is to ensure that it is never directly handled by the contact center agent or customer service representative in the first place. That is true whether they are working from home or in their normal office environment. Secure payment technologies like Cardprotect Voice+ and Cardprotect Relay+ enable contact center agents and other employees to accept payments over the phone or through any digital channel, without personally handling or processing the payment card details themselves. Using technologies like dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) masking and encryption, Semafone secure payment solutions sit outside the network and securely route sensitive payment card data directly to the payment service provider (PSP) for processing. In this way, they ensure that the sensitive data never passes through the remote agent's home network. Nor is it captured or retained in the business infrastructure in any way - significantly reducing the risk that it could fall victim to a data breach or theft. Whether making a payment or purchase over the phone, on the company's website, through their social media channels or any other channel, customers can rest assured that their sensitive payment card data is secure.

As we navigate our "new normal" and make plans to return to the office, organizations will need smart cybersecurity strategies and technologies in place that will provide strong data security across their entire hybrid business environment - from the main office to the homes of their remote workers. With modern cloud technologies and secure payment solutions that support all channels, organizations can ensure strong data security, no matter where their employees are located or what the future of work looks like.