To my in-house colleagues thrust into the working-from-home experience by the pandemic, let’s talk privacy and cybersecurity for a minute. Because the fact is, your home setup is likely far less secure than you think, and, especially if you work with sensitive data, intellectual property, health or financial records, etc., it’s your ethical (and in many cases, legal) responsibility to protect all of it. [Read more here.]
With the exodus of workers from actively secured premises and in-house networks, cybersecurity has taken a nosedive and hackers are taking advantage of the newly vulnerable among us. Don’t let that be you!
(But first, the preliminaries. It’s been what, four weeks you’ve been working from home now? Honeymoon’s over: Take a shower and put on some real clothes. You’ll feel more productive, trust me. And, just for the record, neither I nor any other freelancer I know sits around in their pajamas all day. Workout gear, maybe. Pajamas all day every day? Well, that’s just asking for depression to set in.)
7 Easy Steps for Working Securely from Home
- Use a secure connection. You know not to transmit data over open public connections, but did you know your home wi-fi can be a target, too? Make sure your router is set up securely and password protected and your router software is updated.
- Use a VPN. Your internet service provider (ISP) can track your movements on the web, which is a privacy issue, but, also, your data can be seen when it’s in transit over the internet. A VPN provides a tunnel between your computer and the site to which you are connecting.
- If your company provides a VPN, great, use that. All things being equal, that’s as safe as if you were back sitting at your desk in the office.
- Try out a VPN before committing, as almost every service has a trial account option. I like Proton VPN and Tunnel Bear. Worried about latency and upload/download speed? Ookla speed test will help you measure speeds and compare services. Here’s a recent rundown of the top VPN services available: https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-vpn-services.
- Know the site you’re connecting to. Seeing https:// at the beginning of a URL indicates the site has a security certificate BUT scammers absolutely can run a site with a security certificate and they absolutely can fake a security certificate. So know where you’re going and avoid dark alleys.
- Beware of phishing and spear phishing. Be on the lookout for any request for sensitive information, even if it seems valid. Hackers are aware people are separated while working from home and may be less likely to verify requests for information or payment. So call your colleagues to ask for verification of these requests, unless you’re quarantined with them and can still ask for verification of a request face-to-face.
- Turn off your bugs and mics. Your smart home is listening to you…and sometimes recording what you say. If you are okay with that in your personal life, that’s on you. But you don’t really have the right to broadcast your employer’s sensitive information, client information, proprietary data, etc. Disconnect and disable those items during the work day. [Read: Protecting Your Home Office from Your Smart Home]
- Print securely. Your wireless printer can be a major vulnerability. If you work with highly sensitive information and must print a file, consider connecting your computer to your printer with a physical connection. While transferring a document to a thumb drive that can be plugged directly into your printer’s USB port, remember that storing data on a thumb drive is not a secure option, as they are easily lost, stolen, or even just forgotten. And make sure your printer software is updated as needed (yes, just like routers, printers use software that needs to be updated upon occasion).
- Videoconference with class. Avoid getting ZoomBombed! [Read Don’t Bomb at Zoom] Zoom has some security issues you should be aware of, so know your tool and take the appropriate protective measures. [Read: Zoom Running Afoul of Privacy & Security Concerns] And, like I said, it’s time to get out of your pajamas and into some real clothes. Even the bottoms. Remember, your colleagues can see the space around you, so pick a tidy part of your abode that is appropriate for public viewing. While there’s a growing tolerance of disruptions from pets and children (my cat is a complete Nosey Parker, and my dog loves to yell at the local wildlife to get off her lawn when I’m on a call), I am going to stick with the guidance to not videoconference from your bedroom for professional meetings.
A Parting Tip for Sharing the Bandwidth
Handy tip if your internet connection is overtaxed because you’re quarantined with the whole family and your teens are streaming videos and sucking up all the bandwidth—don’t run the microwave at high-usage times if you’re using a 2.4 GHz wireless band (because that’s the frequency the microwave runs on), place your router on a desk or table (not on the floor) and put it in a central location to avoid dead zones. You can also get a more reliable connection by not using wi-fi—plug your computer directly into your router. That’s especially helpful if you’re videoconferencing and your wi-fi connection seems “glitchy.”
And to answer the lingering question from the preceding paragraph, yes, if the microwave is affecting your wi-fi, it is a radiation leak. Something to think about. [You can read more about that at Gizmodo.]
Stay safe, say happy.
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