Working from home opens you up to all sorts of security risks you don’t face in the office. When the IT staff isn’t right down the hall, these simple tips will help protect your company’s data, as well as your own.
When you step into your office or cubicle and sit down to work at a company-owned computer, you shouldn’t have to worry much about security. That’s what the IT department is for, right? But these days things are not so simple. If you’re one of the vast number of people who’ve suddenly found themselves working from home, you’re responsible for doing so securely.
Don’t worry. There are plenty of things you can do to upgrade your work-from-home security, and many are simple to implement. Follow the tips below to make sure that you’re not the one who accidentally exposes all the HR records or leaks secret company plans to a competitor.
Secure Your Computer
If you’re new to working from home, chances are good you simply promoted your existing personal computer to be a work computer. For work, though, you need to take security seriously. Maybe you thought, “I’ve got nothing a hacker would want,” and hence skipped antivirus protection? That won’t fly with your boss, so get AV protection right away. If you already have an antivirus, check that it’s fully enabled and up to date.
Speaking of keeping things up to date, now is a good time to double-check that you’ve got your computer set to automatically receive all security updates, especially Windows updates. Each time Microsoft comes out with a patch, the patched vulnerability becomes public knowledge. Malware coders jump in, hoping to exploit the security hole before the update disables it.
Some folks are lucky enough to have a dedicated home office, but for most, work happens wherever you can clear a space. When you leave your computer to fix a snack or take a break, always hit the Windows+L key combination to lock it. Sure, you trust your family, but kids (and their friends) can be curious, or mischievous. On a modern Mac, Command+Control+Q does the job. Laptop? Just close the lid!
Speaking of locking the computer, you do lock your account with a password, right? Maybe you thought there’s no need for a strong password when the computer just served to let you check email and watch cat videos, but when it has “work stuff” on it, that changes. Set up a reasonably strong password now. If your device supports Windows Hello, macOS Touch ID or some other type of biometric login, use that. More on passwords below!
Secure Your Network
You may not care if a neighbor mooches off your home Wi-Fi network, but letting strangers into a network that contains your company’s work product is another story. If you’re still using the default login credentials, for shame! Lists of defaults for popular routers abound on the internet. It’s time to change your Wi-Fi password. Hey, it can even be fun, since you can name it anything you want. How about “FBI Mobile Unit #237”?
Many offices require long-term remote workers to connect to the company network using a corporate virtual private network, or VPN. This makes the remote PC part of the corporate network, and gives it access to resources that are only available in-network. It also effectively takes that remote PC out of its own local network, meaning local resources like network printers won’t be available, but that’s the price you pay.
Remember, too, that when you’re using the corporate VPN, all your internet traffic goes through your employer’s servers. You’d be wise to refrain from surfing for porn or any other sketchy online activities when you’re on the company’s VPN.
At present, many workers have been tossed willy-nilly into the work-from-home world by companies that don’t have anything like a corporate VPN. You can still protect your internet traffic, both work and personal, by engaging the services of a third-party VPN. We’ve identified the best VPNs, so you can choose one that fits your budget.
If your work is seriously sensitive, you might consider splitting your home network. Keep your work computers and related devices on the main network, but connect the family’s phones and tablets, Internet of Things devices, and other personal devices to the Guest network. Configuring your router to enable the Guest network should be fairly easy.
Secure Your Communications
Email is intrinsically insecure, but when a company’s workers all connect using the same internal network, the IT department can impose a degree of protection that’s not otherwise possible. You may have seen emails with a warning at the bottom, “This message came from an external source. Be wary.” As noted, if you must log into a corporate VPN to get your email, that protection remains. But for most of us, email from home office to work is more exposed.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to fix that problem. For your personal email, you can choose to add an email encryption service, but at the business level, email encryption must come from the top. If you’re thrown into a situation requiring you to communicate sensitive corporate data via email, consider sending a request for management to implement encryption.
In the office, you might walk over to a colleague’s desk with a quick question. The work-from-home equivalent is probably a text message using your personal phone. However, basic SMS text messages have no real protection against interception or interference. You can patch that security hole by getting together with your colleagues and agreeing on a free secure messaging app to use in place of texting. Better yet, make use of any secure business messaging app that your company provides.
As for those video meetings that have almost universally replaced face-to-face meetings, those aren’t necessarily secure. If you’re the organizer, ensuring the meeting is protected against snooping or zoom-bombingis your responsibility. Do your research, and take advantage of all available security options in the video conferencing solution that you choose.
Secure Your Data
Does your work-from-home computer become the children’s homework (or gaming) computer after hours? You can minimize the possibility of slop-over from other uses by ensuring that each family member has a separate user account. Windows 10 lets you choose to add another adult or add a child. If you choose the latter, you get a certain amount of control over the account. More importantly, a child account lacks the permissions that would allow a clever youth to go exploring in your work data. For even more separation, consider creating one account for work only, and another for your personal use.
If you’re using a Mac, you can create new user accounts with just standard permissions or give them full administrator privileges. As with Windows, there’s an option to create child accounts with parental control features enabled.
Windows is pretty good at keeping other users out of your stuff, and macOS is even better. But neither will stop a determined hacker, a data-stealing Trojan, or a ransomware attack that turns your quarterly reports into gibberish. As an additional layer of protection, keep your work documents in an encrypted vault. Using this type of product, unlocking the vault makes it available like any other folder or drive. You can move files into and out of it, or edit files directly in the vault. When you close the vault, nobody can get access to those files. If you have a high-end security suite installed, you may already have this technology available.
Secure Your Passwords
Passwords are a terrible way to authenticate your access to secure sites and apps, but at present, we don’t really have a better way. We always advise you to use a different, unguessable password on every site, and never re-use passwords. Most especially, never reuse the same password for work accounts and personal accounts. Of course, there’s no way you can remember dozens or hundreds of strong passwords, so you’ll absolutely need a password manager.
Some password managers let you create different password collections, say, one for work and one for personal. For even more separation, you might consider using one free password manager for work and a different one for your personal passwords.
For sensitive business-related accounts, you really should enable two-factor authentication. Your employer may even require this step. This technology ensures that someone who gets hold of your password, perhaps in a data breach, can’t just use it to log in. A second factor is required, often a time-based one-time password (TOTP) generated by an app on your smartphone. Without that second factor, the password is useless.
Work From Home With Confidence
As you can see, there’s a lot you can do to secure your work-from-home situation. The best part is, investing a little time in security benefits your personal digital life as well. Maybe your employer will suffer a data breach while having employees work from home, but it won’t be your fault.