The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way people work. As quarantines were ordered, millions of former office workers found themselves working from home, and many are and will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. While many welcome telecommuting and its perks, such as cutting the commute and nixing the need to get dressed up (or dressed at all!), it also brings about some challenges, such as cybersecurity threats.
Most companies have plenty of cybersecurity measures in place within their walls, they may not be as well-equipped when it comes to protecting information used by the new droves of employees who are now working from their own homes. Fortunately, as an employee, there are some things you can do to help minimize cybersecurity threats while working from home.
Safety tips when working from home
- Follow company guidelines. Know what security steps your company expects you to take when you’re working from home. In many cases, it’s not a good idea to log onto your family’s home computer and get to work. The network may require a VPN (virtual private network), a secure server or other technology to keep information and equipment safe. Don’t ignore the emails and communications your company sends about such procedures and assume you know the drill. COVID-19 has changed many things, and the company may have changed and continue to change policies in its wake.
- Use private Wi-Fi, not public. It may be convenient to work from the coffee shop down the street, but public Wi-Fi can give hackers easy access to your computer. As for your private Wi-Fi, make sure it’s password protected with a strong and unique password and that you use encryption technology, which scrambles your information, making it difficult for outsiders to read. Ideally, you should select WPA2 or WPA3 encryption on your router, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If neither is available, it may be time for a new router with that extra protection.
- Use a work computer, not your own, if you’ve been given one. Many of the computers companies provide to employees already have safety tools installed, such as a firewall, VPNs, antivirus protections and two-factor authentication. Your family computer or personal laptop likely doesn’t have those same measures, which could make you more vulnerable. Not only that, but if you have different platforms or operating systems on your personal computer, your company may not support them.
- Keep a close eye on your computer. If you’re given a company computer, take great care with it. Never leave it unattended in a public space, don’t leave it in your car, and make sure it’s password protected in case it should be lost or stolen. Also, if you’re working in public, be aware of your surroundings to be sure no one can peek over your shoulder and see confidential information.
- Update Zoom. What would this pandemic be without Zoom? It has made video meetings a snap, but at one point some security loopholes also made hacking a snap. Fortunately, the latest version of Zoom addressed those security issues, so install the latest version to ensure you’re not vulnerable.
- Use strong passwords. We mentioned strong passwords above when talking about your private Wi-Fi network, but it bears repeating again when it comes to all your work accounts, email accounts and beyond. Passwords should be long (at least 12 characters), strong (i.e. not your kids’ names or work123, etc.) and contain letters, numbers and special characters. And of course, don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. Sure, it’s easy to just pick one password to keep using different places, but that also makes it easy for hackers to access all your accounts with just one password. If you have trouble generating and/or keeping track of your passwords, consider using a password manager.
- Beware of phishing and other scams. Hackers look for any opportunity to try and take advantage of people, and they certainly couldn’t pass up COVID-19. The Secret Service recently warned that there has been a rise in coronavirus-related email scams containing malicious attachments, including some sent to workers that appear to have come from their CEO. It’s a good reminder to always be aware, particularly when working from home, and to avoid opening any emails, texts or links that appear to be suspicious.
- Don’t wait, update. When you get an alert that the software on your computer or mobile phone is available for an update, don’t wait. Update it right away. Those updates contain security measures to protect you against the latest known threats, and if you don’t download them, you may not be adequately protected from them. Bonus: Updates may add new features that make your computer and programs work better.
- Know the warning signs. If your computer is hacked despite your best efforts, there are some telltale signs, including the appearance of new programs you didn’t install or losing control of your keyboard or mouse. Let your IT department know immediately if you notice unusual things happening on your computer.
Working from home is a great alternative to in-office presence for many, and it may continue to be a more popular option as COVID-19 has shown companies and employees just how effective it can be. But whether you’re working from home for a day or full-time, it’s important that you do your part to ensure online safety.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.
Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.