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Survey Highlights Telecommuter Troubles

Telecommuting security, privacy risks often put on the back burner, according to a new survey by Ernst & Young

It used to be employers worried about telecommuters sitting around watching soap operas all day -- now the concern is whether they’re somehow leaking or compromising corporate data from their home offices.

The good news is that they’re aware of the problem. The bad news is that few are actually doing much about the security and privacy risks posed by their telecommuters: Only 25 percent of the over 70 organizations that responded to a recent Ernst & Young and Center for Democracy & Technology survey prohibit their telecommuting users from using peripheral devices such as USB drives, Web cameras, and media players, or require that employees encrypt data stored on USB and other portable and removable drives.

Half of the respondents don’t have formal policies, training, or procedures for teaching telecommuters about security and privacy risks.

Among the key findings were that while over 75 percent of them allow their employees to link to the corporate network via a wireless network, only about half of the companies mandate secure wireless connections for their at-home users. While email encryption is used by half of the organizations, telecommuters still use encryption-less home computers for work, according to the report.

Over half say they don’t allow users to download software outside of what was provided by the organization, but 17 percent say their telecommuters can download any software they want to use. Peer-to-peer file-sharing is off limits to nearly half of the organizations, and one third say they don’t permit instant messaging, either.

Telecommuter security and privacy issues need to be revisited, according to the Ernst & Young report. “Common privacy and security practices are often lacking with regard to [the] telecommuter user of portable devices, wireless networks, and internet downloads; such oversights could lead to the compromise of the personal information that employees handle at home,” the report says.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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