It’s no secret that remote working has seen a massive boost in popularity all around the world in recent months. The events of COVID-19 and government lockdowns as a result have forced millions, if not billions, of employees to adopt remote working procedures across all fields.
While “remote work” can offer many benefits like increased flexibility and less commute time, it does also come with its fair share of drawbacks, in addition to actual risks. One topic that is very important to understand when undergoing remote work is privacy – both for the company and for individual employees. In today’s world, information is being shared at such an astounding rate that it’s now easier than ever for thieves and hackers to get their hands on private business and personal information.
So, with everyone so connected and “open” to these types of threats, how can the everyday employee or manager keep themselves and their business safe? Unfortunately, there is no “magic armor” that will eliminate all risks entirely, but there are some simple tips and tricks you can follow to ensure better cybersecurity and privacy in today’s remote working world.
1. Invest in a VPN
A “Virtual Private Network” or VPN is a private server that allows users (aka employees) to send information, emails, and other data across the VPN as if their devices were directly connected to a private network. These services are very commonly used by companies with employees who utilize remote working devices like company laptops. The increased encryption and private network can increase security for the users and the information being sent, which is why more and more companies are investing in a VPN service. There are numerous options for VPNs depending on your location and number of users, and they come at a variety of price points.
2. Keep your devices updated
Major tech companies like Microsoft Windows, Apple, and Android are constantly upgrading their softwares to run better and provide increased security. While those pop-up notifications informing you that you need to ‘restart your computer to install updates’ can get very annoying, the updates are usually necessary to improve and better protect your devices. If you want to get a better understanding of what the update will include, read the update notes that are usually provided with the notification.
3. Be aware of SPAM and Phishing emails
We already mentioned how easy it is for hackers to acquire personal information in today’s world. One of the most popular ways to do this is through the use of SPAM and Phishing emails, which are fake scam emails that are disguised as legitimate and attempt to steal personal information from users. There are billions upon billions of variations of Phishing emails, but they tend to follow a simple template that involves the user (you) clicking on a link, opening an attachment, or some other method that manually opens a window for the hackers to view your computer and information:
“Hi! This is Apple Support. We have noticed a problem with your credit card on your account. Please open the attached document to view your overdue payments!”
As a general rule of thumb, most services, retailers, and banks will never ask you via email to provide personal information like passwords, account numbers, or credit card information. While Phishing emails can sometimes be very easy to recognize, hackers are getting better and better at creating fake emails that look almost identical to the real thing. If you receive a Phishing email, make sure you click the “Report Phishing” option in your inbox.
Read more about tips, and what to do if you suspect a Phishing attack, below.
Federal Trade Commission – How to Avoid Phishing Scams
Safetydetectives.com – Ultimate Guide to Staying Safe from Phishing
4. Do not share your company computer with anyone
Company laptops, tablets, and other technology should be for work use only. Don’t lend any of this equipment to a friend or family member, as you run the risk of that person visiting suspicious sites, or connecting to an unsecured network.
5. Only use company tech for work
Similar to not sharing your company computer with anyone, your company computer should only be used for work-related activities. Downloading movies, games, or other files from the internet or using your work computer on any unsecured network while traveling, for example, can be risky.
6. Only use company-approved communication methods
Our mobile devices have become second-nature when it comes to communication, and that includes work communication as well. While it is easy to text your co-worker or send them a Facebook or What’sApp message, these forms of communication are much more open to threats than communication on a VPN or other private network. Keep this in mind the next time you want to debrief the recent earnings report over text message!
7. Report any suspicious online activity immediately
If you believe you have accidentally clicked on a SPAM link, or notice that your email has been sending strange messages and you suspect your account might have been hacked, report this to your supervisor and IT department immediately! The sooner your company learns of suspicious activity on accounts or sites, the quicker they can work to solve the issues!
8. Cover your webcam
Everyone has seen a spy or secret agent movie where the bad guys are able to remotely access a person’s webcam and spy on them. Although it seems crazy, hacking a webcam and accessing it remotely is absolutely real and happens more often than you would think! Use a piece of paper, like a sticky note, or another object to cover your webcam when you are not using it.
9. Lock your computer
This one should be a ‘no-brainer’ but it can be very easy to forget! First off, have a password on your computer to ensure it cannot be accessed by anyone else but you. Choose a strong password that contains a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
To take this one step further, if you are remote working from a public place like a coffee shop, ensure you ALWAYS lock your computer if you leave it to go to the counter to pick up your coffee, or run to the restroom. Better yet, always take your computer with you wherever you go and never leave it unattended in a public place.
10. Back-up your files
Ever dropped your phone into the ocean and lost all your precious photos because they weren’t saved anywhere else? Yup – the same can happen to your work files, important projects, reports, and work-related data if you don’t have things backed-up. Each company will have a different policy on backing-up data so be sure to ask your supervisor what types of procedures they have in place for using a secure cloud storage system or other means for backing-up crucial files.
11. Create a Technology Guide for your employees
If you’re a smaller company and do not have a designated “technology use” guide, you should consider making one. This is a great resource to contain information about safe browsing, responsible use of technology, and steps and procedures for setting up a VPN, creating passwords, avoiding Phishing scams, and tips like the ones contained in this blog!
This resource was created after reviewing Remote Working Cybersecurity Checklist created by Cyber Management Alliance.