As armies of telecommuters abandon their cubicles post-COVID for the flexibility and freedom of at-home work, businesses everywhere are facing an unprecedented challenge to their cyber security. Every new telecommuter is one more potential point of intrusion, and once hackers gain access to the corporate network the damage could be truly incalculable.

Ransomware is a particularly insidious threat to the new at-home workforce, and it is one that no company can afford to ignore. This unique, and uniquely dangerous, form of malware is designed with profit in mind, with hackers demanding enormous sums of money for the release of the files they are holding hostage.

In the office environment, businesses and IT teams can lock down their equipment, train their employees and monitor their networks to prevent ransomware from gaining a foothold, but that level of corporate control and oversight is simply not possible when employees are working from home. That means IT managers and business owners must adopt new measures, steps that turn their telecommuters into data protection agents. Here are some steps home-based workers can use to prevent ransomware and reduce the risk of other malware attacks.

Install dedicated malware protection that includes ransomware detection. Company-supplied equipment should have strong malware and ransomware detection software pre-installed, complete with automatic updates. Personal devices used for business purposes should be equipped with the same or equivalent ransomware-detection software.

Make sure your Wi-Fi is locked down with a strong password. A strong Wi-Fi password is an essential part of cyber security for telecommuters. New at-home workers should be strongly encouraged to review their current Wi-Fi passwords and upgrade them if necessary.

Check the security protocol of your router and upgrade if necessary. Many older routers do not have the latest security protocols in place. Telecommuters may need to replace their routers to comply with the requirements of their employers.

Keep antivirus signatures up to date and make sure full scans are run at least once a day. Once again, company-supplied equipment should come with strong antivirus software preinstalled and updates set to automatic. The antivirus protection of personal devices should be reviewed and recommendations made to improve cyber security.

Double-check backups of company data going to and from the corporate network. IT managers should do spot checks and test restores to make sure the process is working the way it should be.

• All devices, including both personally-owned tablets and smartphones and company-supplied equipment, should be locked every time the employee steps away. Even a five minute break could give unauthorized users access to proprietary company data.

• Consider implementing encryption protocols for company-owned equipment and supplying encryption tools for personal devices.

Set firm guidelines for the off-site use of company-owned equipment and personal devices used to perform work-related tasks.

Require the use of a VPN for corporate network access. A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a private tunnel between the homes of telecommuters and the corporate network on the other end. All access to corporate-owned data should be through a secure VPN protocol.

Preventing ransomware attacks is the responsibility of everyone, from the brand new telecommuters trading their cubicles for home offices to the IT staff on the front lines of defense to the business owners themselves. As more and more workers swap their cubicles for their homes, cyber security challenges will continue to rise. The smart strategies listed above can help those brand new telecommuters protect themselves from ransomware and similar cyber attacks.