Category: Security and Compliance

Work From Home Policy Benefits and Considerations

working from home

In the past several months, work from home (WFH) policies have become increasingly popular. The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in a temporary and sometimes permanent WFH environment for many companies throughout the country. 

Working from home can be beneficial and many employers and workers are happily embracing the trend. Plus, with remote access solutions, it’s easier for businesses to safely operate from anywhere with a secure, remote connection. Here are some benefits companies see after making a WFH shift:

Improved Employee Satisfaction

Many employees appreciate the option to work from home at least part of the time. The flexibility to choose when to go into an office provides peace of mind to employees who might have to commute far in bad weather or need to deal with an unexpected illness. Most workers prefer organizations that allow a greater balance between life and work.

Increased Productivity

Increase worker productivity is a major potential benefit for a work from home policy adoption. Studies have shown that in many cases productivity improves when employees work from home.

It may seem that a house has many distractions, but the office may have more. Colleagues visiting, a loud office space, and impromptu meetings can steal away a lot of time. From home, some employees have the opportunity to focus on a task with fewer interruptions.

Less Time Spent Commuting

Anyone who sits in traffic or takes public transportation daily understands the merit of a shortened commute. It’s also greener: cutting down on daily commutes may have a net positive effect on energy savings. At the very least, employees will see a decline in transportation costs and time spent traveling to work.

Recruitment and Retention Improvements

Recruiting top employees remains a serious challenge, but limiting the candidate pool to a local area may mean a company is missing out on potential applicants. Studies by major consulting and recruitment firms are determining that the opportunity to WFH can be a key factor when applying for new jobs. Companies may also lose some of their own workers – the lack of work from home opportunities has been listed as a reason for seeking alternative employment.

Decreased Real Estate Costs

For companies and organizations who believe WFH will be their long-term model, this can mean eliminating office space, cutting considerable fixed-costs out of the bottom line equation.

There are many great benefits of working from home, however, relaxed data security and blurred office hours can become an opportunity for cyber threats. If you’re considering adopting a work from home policy, here are some factors that should be carefully considered:

Equipment and Maintenance 

It should be outlined what equipment and utilities employers and employees are responsible for providing and maintaining. Will bandwidth be a reimbursable expense? Will laptops, phones, etc. be provided by the business or will this be a BYOD project?

If technology is provided by the employer, determine the employee’s responsibility to keep it maintained and install upgrades. If you have a BYOD policy, decide if employees required to bring their devices in for upgrades and security checks. Click here to learn more about adopting a BYOD policy.

Fair Labor Standards Act 

When employees work from home, overtime laws are still applicable. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) created a framework for paying wages above the law’s definition of a 40-hour workweek that includes overtime pay for work performed beyond that threshold. Under FLSA, two basic classes of workers are defined: those employees who must be paid overtime when working in excess of forty hours (non-exempt employees), and those who are not required to be compensated for work done beyond the 40-hour limit (exempt employees).

The problem FLSA presents is that non-exempt employees must be paid for all work, including any work activity outside regular working hours. An example of the liability that is created for an employer are employees who respond to texts and emails from home outside “office hours.” This is compensable work and needs to be counted under the 40-hour threshold. Policies that protect you from any violation of FLSA should be articulated clearly in writing.

Be Aware of Organizational Silos

When developing a WFH policy, the above issue of FLSA points out that effective WFH  planning and implementation requires collaboration, and not just between individual managers and employees. IT involvement may be necessary – determine who is supporting off-site technology and maintaining data security. It is a human resource issue-will performance measurements need to be tweaked? It may be a legal issue – certain types of data is governed by federal and state laws such as HIPAA and FERPA.

It is extremely important that companies take into consideration the data protection and legal implications before opting for a work from home setup. WFH policies can prove beneficial to both the employer and the employee if planned well and implemented properly.

No matter if you’re in the office or at home, networks need to be secure and maintained. MSPs like Wahaya can help ease the telecommuting transition with remote access solutions and business data continuity plans. Contact us to start setting up your business to operate from any time, anywhere!

Staying Compliant in Healthcare: Conducting a HIPAA Risk Assessment

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) serves as a constant reminder to professionals in the healthcare field that data security is of utmost importance. Every company that works directly with protected health information (PHI), along with their business associates, is required to complete a risk assessment.

What is a Risk Assessment?

HIPAA requires covered entities, which includes health plans, healthcare providers, and healthcare clearinghouses to complete a thorough risk assessment to determine all possible vulnerabilities in terms of data security. 

A HIPAA risk assessment should determine that your organization is in compliance with all of the privacy, security and breach notification requirements of HIPAA. It is required of both covered entities and business associates. This can be achieved via the risk assessment process, the goal of which is to identify all of the potential areas of vulnerability. 

Why is a HIPPA Risk Assessment Mandatory?  

HIPPA regulations exist to cover data security. Covered entities are responsible for assessing, identifying, documenting vulnerabilities and taking precautions to eliminate or mitigate the risk of a breach.

An organization can be fined for the failure of due diligence to recognize areas where a data breach could occur. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported a wireless health service provider violated HIPPA Privacy and Security rules when a laptop with PHI was stolen from an employee’s vehicle. The investigation revealed insufficient risk analysis and the company agreed to pay $2.5 million and implement a corrective action plan. 

Companies are also subject to a fine fined even if no data has been breached, but they allowed a situation to develop which creates vulnerability. 

What Does a HIPPA Risk Assessment Entail? 

Due to the unique vulnerabilities of electronically stored and transmitted data, a professional in cybersecurity, data protection, and data backups should handle your risk assessment. Wahaya’s cybersecurity and compliance services can assist your organization with internal compliance and the specific requirements to protect you from legal regulations regarding PHI and HIPAA. 

Here is a quick summary of what a risk assessment entails:

A risk assessment should first determine (a) where PHI resides, moves, or is transmitted, and all of the access points. For example, the individuals in an office that have access to patient data and via what media. Interestingly, the rise of mobile devices has created a new area of concern for data security because medical professionals can access data on their phones and tablets.

Then, the assessment should determine the vulnerabilities along all of these touchpoints. That means identifying the threats to data security, which HHS summarizes in four categories:

  1. Unauthorized (malicious or accidental) disclosure, modification, or destruction of information
  2. Unintentional errors and omissions
  3. IT disruptions due to natural or man-made disasters
  4. Failure to exercise due care and diligence in the implementation and operation of the IT system.”

Next, a risk assessment will need to identify and evaluate all of the existing security protocols to protect PHI.

The following step is to determine if these tools are sufficient for data protection and whether the protocols and safeguards are being observed. 

After that, identify the likelihood of a threat. In other words, not all risks are of equal likelihood. As there are limits to an organization’s capacity to eliminate risk, the focus should be on the ones which have a higher probability of occurrence.

Finally, calculate the likely consequences of a breach of PHI. If a breach occurs along any particular touchpoint, how severe would it be? Would it be the release of a single piece of PHI, or one affecting thousands?

Given that so much data is now stored electronically, the risk of a data breach is considerably higher and security is far more complex. It needs to be noted that ignorance of any part HIPAA Guidelines is not an excuse for non-compliance. Failure to do a risk assessment, or to have conducted an adequate risk assessment that failed to identify specific vulnerabilities is, in and of itself, a fineable offense.

Given how quickly the digital landscape changes, it is important to consult an expert with experience in HIPAA related digital security. Wahaya IT Consulting can help protect your business and your patients’ PHI from HIPAA violations with a thorough risk analysis, adding data security measures, and following all security and compliance regulations. Click here to contact our team of IT Professionals!

Managing Cybersecurity with a Top-Down Approach

Employees are often the target of cyberattacks that can compromise private company data. New employees in particular can be the most susceptible to common attacks such as social engineering and phishing. To stay ahead of cybercriminals, organizations should educate and train all employees through a top-down IT security approach.

A top-down IT security approach begins with the IT department and management communicating the importance of cybersecurity and creating guidelines for reporting suspicious activity. IT Departments are not the only ones targeted by cybercrimes, leaving the potential for any employee to become a security liability. A top-down approach shifts the sole responsibility away from a single department.

A combination of general security training and instructions to recognize and report breaches are essential for keeping company data safe. Wahaya IT Consulting works with organizations to create a custom IT Policy handbook to distribute to every employee. Click here to see more of our recommended cybersecurity training best practices.

Focus on the first steps you need to take as an organization to better prepare your employees to identify and mitigate cyber threats. For example, employee training is just one part of Wahaya’s layered approach to IT security. Minimizing the of a cyberattack can help to avoid the following repercussions: 

  • Negative affect on brand image: Business disruption due to downtime or having your business data (including customer and vendor details) stolen reflects poorly on your brand.
  • Loss of customers: Customers may take their business elsewhere if they don’t feel safe sharing their information with you.
  • Financial loss: Data breaches make you liable to follow certain disclosure requirements mandated by the law. These may require you to make announcements to the media, which can become expensive. You may also have to hire a PR team to address communications during this time. 
  • Potential of lawsuits: A company could be sued by customers whose Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been compromised or stolen. Depending on the industry, there may also be steep fines for noncompliance. 

Your company’s organizational structure should acknowledge the fact that IT security is not only your IT department, CTO, or Managed Service Provider’s (MSP) responsibility. IT Security is dependent on every part of the business. Starting from the top and encompassing every employee within the organization approach will lead to success in keeping customer and business information safe and secure.

Cover your vulnerabilities with a cybersecurity prevention plan. Contact us to learn more about our cybersecurity solutions.

Managing Risks: Small firms need to wake up

Managing Risks: Small firms need to wake up

You may not think too much about serious disasters. Most of us focus on the day-to-day chores of running our businesses and keeping revenues up. However, there are long term planning concerns that many firms just avoid. Those concerns are managing the risk to your business if something very bad happens. This long-term planning is called risk management and it is the dullest topic ever—until something bad happens.

Business school academics have varying definitions of risk and risk management, but for our purposes the concepts are fairly simple. Risk is the negative uncertainty that comes from any potential loss. Risk management is the collection of activities a business undertakes to mitigate, avoid, and transfer the losses that might damage the business due to some negative event.Risk management, now frequently referred to as Enterprise Risk Management, has been an area of business focus for decades. Businesses have long recognised that they need to look at the financial risks they might face if something happened to their physical assets or were confronted with major litigation. However, in the past few decades, there has been a stronger and broader focus on the entire spectrum of risks that confront a business which has begun to push the issue to the C-suite level. Unfortunately, while large businesses devote serious resources at the the highest level to managing risk to protect their organization, smaller firms often spend little or no time considering risk as an important business issue. Even smaller firms who do take the time to think about protecting against operational threats may be unlikely to consider threats that are a degree or two of separation away from their core business. That means that technology infrastructure may be ignored if, and when, business continuity and disaster recovery plans are being considered.

Background: Why is risk management gaining greater visibility? As noted, risk management isn’t new. However, the last few decades have seen the United States face two major catastrophic events: Hurricane Katrina in 2006 and the terror attacks in 2001. Both brought to the fore the consequences to businesses who are unprepared, as well as the reality that very bad things can happen.

Globalization has also shown that distance does not shield us from the consequences of far away events. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 reminded manufacturers and businesses in the United States about the consequences of their reliance on long supply chains and just-in-time inventory.

Another new threat that has alerted even the smallest firms to their vulnerability is technological. For a small firm, a major man-made or natural disaster may seem too distant to distract management from day-to-day operations, but the emergence of cyber threats, ransomware, hacking and data theft has really hit home for every organization out there. Even smaller firms totally focussed on making it day-to-day are taking notice of this threat. Have you really given thought to how you would handle a disaster?

Click to contact us for more information about managing IT risks.

BYOD: Placing limits

BYOD: Placing Limits

In our recent blog, we talked about the data security concerns that BYOD can bring to your workplace. There is another factor that needs to be considered before adopting BYOD. How much Bring Your Own can your IT department support? Supporting too many different operating systems, hardware models and software versions can be a real drain on the resources of your IT staff. Supporting BYOD can become very expensive.

You will need to consider placing limits on the BYO part of the issue. There are a wide array of possible devices out there. Supporting all of them would be overwhelming. Users don’t just BYOD, they bring their own Operating System and their own software applications and all of those applications’ multiple versions. Trying to support and control an almost limitless list of entry points into your data is both unwise and impossible. IT will need to place limits on which devices and operating systems it will support.

Another point to consider is how much the company will rely on the individual user to install and upgrade company-required applications? Will IT be responsible for those duties? By placing the burden on IT, you ensure all the proper versions are being used, but you increase the labor requirement, which may become impractical.

In summary, there are a lot of issues regarding BYOD that create concerns. BYOD policies have a lot of moving parts which makes supporting them a difficult task. Make sure you are recognizing all the areas that will require IT support.

Contact us for more information on our IT support services.

BYOD can have some downsides

Employers know that employees prefer BYOD policies and that they can increase productivity. However, BYOD can have some downsides. Probably the most prominent concern among those who have to address the BYOD issue is the increased risk to data security. Obviously, the more devices you have with the ability to connect to your data, the more opportunities you create for a breach. Simply put, a house with 20 doors and 50 windows with multiple lock styles is a bit more vulnerable than a house with one door and one window.

BYOD increases risk to the organization. Data breaches bring a few layers of concern. First, the loss of proprietary data can affect your competitive status in the market. However, the real high-visibility concern is the theft of your customer’s personal data. Theft of personal data brings three serious consequences.

First, data breach laws require informing all victims of the data breach and in some cases, the media must also be informed. This public visibility can have long-lasting implications for brand value.

Second, you face a short- and long-term revenue hit. Customers angry and frustrated, as well as others who learn about the breach through social media, word-of-mouth, and traditional media sources, may move their business to the competition.

Third, data breaches can bring civil penalties. In the case of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, these penalties can be extremely severe. ( And keep in mind, the GDPR doesn’t just apply to entities physical operating within the EU. It applies to the data of any user who is a citizen of the EU.)

In summary, given the severity of the consequences and the increased vulnerability created by BYOD, it is important to create a BYOD policy with strict parameters. It cannot be a “wild west” of anything goes.

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The dark web: An introduction

The dark web: An introduction

Have you come across the term, dark web, recently? As a business, you might have heard that you need to keep your data safe from the dark web. So, what is the dark web anyway? Read on to find out…

What is the dark web?

The cybercrime landscape is evolving fast. The “Nigerian” email scams are now old. Cybercriminals are smarter and more organized now–almost functioning like professionals. In fact, there’s a sort of a parallel universe where they all operate in a very corporate-like manner. And that parallel universe is called the Dark Web.

The surface web, the deep web and the dark web

Essentially, the internet can be categorized into 3 parts.

  • The surface web, which includes your ‘regular’ websites–the kinds that just show up on web searches. For example, you type, Dog Videos and links to a bunch of dog videos on YouTube shows up. YouTube, in this case, is an example of the surface web.
  • The deep web, which shows up in web searches, but requires you to log in to view specific content. For example, your internet banking page or your netflix subscription.
  • Then comes the dark web.

The dark web is part of the internet that isn’t visible to search engines and requires the use of an anonymizing browser called Tor to be accessed. The dark web offers anonymity and hence is the hub for all sorts of illicit activities in today’s internet age. Strictly speaking, the dark web typically hosts illicit content. The kind of content that you find in the dark web include

  • Credit card details, stolen login credentials for something as serious as internet banking accounts to something as trivial as Uber or Netflix,
  • Contact details/communication platform for striking deals with hitmen, drug dealers, weapon dealers, hackers, etc.,
  • Marketplace to buy malicious codes to help corrupt or jam IT systems and even RaaS (Ransomeware as a service!)

All of the above and more, for a fee of course. In short, the dark web is like the underworld of the internet.

Interested in learning more about our dark web and cybersecurity solutions? Click here to contact us.

Adopting a BYOD policy

Employee convenience is touted as one of the primary drivers for adopting a BYOD policy. However, just because it can make life easier doesn’t mean employees don’t have serious concerns about the implementation of BYOD in the workplace. From the employee perspective, there are downsides.

One particular issue that arises with BYOD are employee’s concerns about the privacy of personal data and applications. Because these are their own devices, they have an enormous amount of personal data, including health information, photos, texts, emails and other information stored on the device. Also, apps they may have installed could potentially reveal information about their religion, politics, sexual orientation or other characteristics that they may consider private and off-limits. Concern that their employer could see their personal data is a legitimate worry; there are Human Resource implications here. Knowledge of certain data about an employee could make an employer vulnerable to discrimination laws. What about GPS tracking? Can the employer track employee whereabouts? The employer has a compelling interest to track the device in case it is lost or stolen, but the employee has similar competing concerns about privacy.

There are no absolutely correct answers here, but a perception of overstepped boundaries could lead to an atmosphere of distrust that can be counter-productive. It is also important that these decisions be made with knowledge of all applicable local, state and federal regulations. In short, just be aware BYOD is a complex matter that can’t be handled within the silo of IT.

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Website cloning: Don’t fall for that trap!

Website cloning: Don’t fall for that trap!

Have you watched one of those horror movies where the something impersonates the protagonist only to wreak havoc later? Well, website cloning does the same thing–to your business–in real life. Website cloning is one of the most popular methods among scammers to fleece you of your money.

As the name suggests, the cybercriminal first creates a ‘clone’ site of the original one. There can be a clone of any website, though retail shopping sites, travel booking sites and banks are the favorites of cybercriminals. The clone site looks exactly like the original one, barring a very miniscule change in the url.

Next, they will create a trap intended to get unsuspecting victims to visit the clone site. This is usually done via links shared through emails, SMS messages or social media posts asking them to click on a link to the clone site. The message urges the recipient to take an action. For example, a message that presents itself as though it is from the IRS, asking the recipient to pay pending taxes by clicking on a specific link to avoid a fine or business shutdown, or an SMS about a time-bound discount on iPads. Sometimes, they go straight for the target and masquerade as a message from your bank asking you to authenticate your credentials by logging into your banking portal–the only glitch, the banking portal will be a clone.

Staying safe

So, how do you identify a clone website and a dubious message?

  • Does the email sound too good to be true? Well, then it probably is. Nike giving away free shoes? Emirates Airlines giving you free tickets to Europe? Apple iPhone X for just $20? All of these scream SCAM!
  • Even if the message sounds genuine, such as an email from your bank asking you to authenticate your login credentials, check the email header to see if the sender’s email domain matches your bank’s. For example, if your bank is Bank of America, the sender’s email ID should have that in the domain. Something like customercare@bankofamerica.com could be genuine, whereas, customercare@bankofamerica.net is suspicious.
  • Check the final URL before you enter any information to make sure it is the actual one. Most shopping/banking websites, where payments are made and other personal details are shared are secure (HTTPS)and will have a lock symbol at the beginning of the URL. Also, check the domain. For example, something like- www.customerauthentication.com/bankofamerica is not

Identifying a cloned website is tricky, but it is not something you can afford to ignore. Giving away your personal and financial information to a fraudster can cause a lot of harm to you and your business.

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BYOD=Bring your own disaster?

BYOD=Bring your own disaster?

Workplaces today have changed. They extend beyond the working hours, beyond the cubicles. Whether you are commuting to work or even vacationing, chances are you or your employees take a break from the break to reply to those important emails that require ‘immediate action’. Plus, there may even be employees who are not even on the same continent as you. What does all this mean for your business in terms of IT security? Does BYOD translate to bring your own disaster to work? This blog explores the risks of BYOD culture and offers tips on how you can avoid them.

When you adopt a BYOD culture at your business, you are opening the virtual floodgates to all kind of malwares and phishing attacks. Your employee may be storing work-related data on their personal devices and then clicking a malicious link they received on their personal email or (even whatsapp in case of tablets or smartphones) and put your entire network at risk. Secondly, you cannot control how your employees use their personal devices. They may connect to unauthorized networks, download unauthorized software programs, use outdated antivirus programs etc,. Even something as simple and harmless as the free wifi at the mall can spell danger for your data.

What you can do?

First of all, if you have decided to adopt the BYOD culture in your organization, ensure you have a strong BYOD policy in place. It should cover the dos and don’ts and define boundaries and responsibilities related to the BYOD environment.

It also makes sense for you to invest in strong antivirus software and mandate those employees following the BYOD model to install it. You can also conduct device audits to ensure your employee’s personal devices are up-to-date in terms of software, security and firewall requirements to the extent that they are safe to be used for work purpose.

And one of the most important aspects–train your employees on the best practices related to basic data security, access and BYOD environments. This will ensure that they don’t make mistakes that prove costly to you. You can conduct mock drills, tests and certifications and provide the BYOD privilege to only those who clear your tests. You could also use positive and negative reinforcements to ensure everyone takes it seriously.

BYOD is great in terms of the flexibility it lends to both–the employer and the employee, and the trend is here to stay. It is up to businesses to ensure it helps more than it can hurt.

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