A virtual private network, or VPN, is an affordable solution to both issues.
"A virtual private network is just an extension of the network in your office that lets people who are remote to be able to work as if they are in the office," says Fred Taub, president of Resource Team Inc., a computer consulting firm. "A lot of clients are using it for the ability to work at home. There is a wide variety of work being done via the VPN."
The software can be installed on a laptop, so sales reps can check inventory levels or get current billing information.
"No matter where you are, it's just like you are in the office," says Taub.
The first step to setting up a VPN is making sure your network is secure. Once you establish security, you can then set up the hardware and software on your existing system.
"With a VPN, you are establishing a virtual direct connection between two points, with the information encrypted on both ends," says Taub.
With a traditional connection, there might be 15 points between where the information starts and where it ends, with each additional point adding to the security risk.
The system can be set up to allow any amount of access to specific users.
"Someone might need access to the entire server, but maybe someone in accounting just needs access to the billing records," says Taub. "The network should be set up properly so that employees can access what they need for their job but nothing more.
"The VPN really is a solution for any company, whether it's a one-person operation with need of remote access to data or a company with employees who need access to a lot of information that won't fit onto a laptop. It is definitely the way to go if you have people who are working remotely." How to reach: Resource Team Inc., www.resourceteam.com
If your security needs are limited to transferring sensitive data via e-mail, there's a cheaper alternative to the virtual private network.
Special encryption programs can secure any data that you send via e-mail and make it so only the proper recipient can open the documents.
"There are businesses that don't want one bit of information to leak out," says Fred Taub, president of Resource Team. "Hospitals are high on technology use, but if a hospital were to have any of its information leak out by accident, it could ruin its reputation."