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Security Considerations for Remote Work

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If you have suddenly begun working from home, there are undoubtedly many unique issues that have surfaced for you in recent weeks. You are likely trying to figure out where to carve out a dedicated workspace in your home, how to minimize background noise during web conferences, and ways to prevent personal distractions from diverting your attention. If you have children who are also transitioning to a remote format for school, there is the added responsibility of juggling the supervision of their schedules, schoolwork, and meals.

However, one thing you might not be thinking about is how to maintain the security of your company’s tools and information, which is an equally important consideration. This article will cover key safeguarding tips while working from home.

Use Company Issued Devices and Protocols

Most likely your employer has provided you with a laptop, desktop, or tablet for your time spent working from home. Make sure to always use that device, as opposed to your personal computer, when conducting company activities. Continue to log in with company-approved methods using your employee accounts and credentials – this is particularly important if your employer has provided a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and a corresponding soft or hard token. The purpose of a VPN is to protect any transactions occurring across the network and curtail hacking by encrypting the data. Company files should be saved on your work device as well; never save anything from work on a private USB drive or personal cloud account.

On the flip side, do not use your work-issued device for personal online activities. You should operate under the assumption that your employer can (and will) see everything you do with your company laptop. This includes online activities and personal email accounts. Therefore, any information you wish to remain private should not be accessed from a company device.

Beware of Prying Eyes

Even while using your company computer at home, it is important to continue to adhere to standard security measures that you habitually perform in the office. For example, you should lock your computer and stash it in a safe place when you step away – especially if there are young curious minds with grabby hands nearby. Practice intentional spatial awareness, too. You don’t want to be sitting in a position that makes your screen visible through an unshuttered window, for example, or worse yet from someone else’s video conference (if there are multiple people in the household working from home). If your remote working situation is not as personal or private as you would like, consider the use of privacy screen shields to obscure the contents of your screen from onlookers.

Additionally, if you brought hard copies of company files with you from the office, find a place to store them securely at home. When you are finished with them, shred them and dispose of them properly to prevent unwanted distribution.

Be Cognizant of Who Might Be Listening

Sometimes we forget that the privacy of our homes is not necessarily absolute. Take care that you are not overheard when discussing confidential matters. Look for a confined space, with a door, if you are near other people who are conducting their own conference calls nearby. Not only will this remove your voice from the general background noise of your housemate, it will prevent unintended participants of other calls from hearing your conversation. And although you may be suffering from a serious case of cabin fever, when the weather is nice you should refrain from discussing proprietary information outside on the porch or near an open window, particularly if your neighbors are close.

But perhaps the bigger issue is our digital assistants. Helpful tools like Alexa, Siri, and Hey Google are convenient and useful when we need them – but they are also “always on”. These assistants are continuously listening for their “wake-up word” or activation phrase, so you should turn them off or remove them from the room whenever you are discussing sensitive information.

Choose Secure Productivity Tools

If your company has provided guidance on which communication tools to use while working remotely, make sure to adhere to those recommendations. For example, if your employer has already set a standard of using Skype for internal messaging or Cisco Webex for conference calls, then you should continue to use these same tools while working from home. It may be tempting to try a cool new option for your work video conferences that may seem more user-friendly or more fun, but there are reasons not to make this decision yourself. You would not want to make the mistake of trying a platform like Zoom without permission, as this is one example of a tool that has recently been shown to lack end-to-end encryption, which opens you to the possibility of your call being hacked by unsavory characters. Anyone can infiltrate your Zoom meeting with alarming content such as pornography or hate speech – a phenomenon now known as “Zoombombing”. Not only would that derail your meeting, but it puts company data at risk while simultaneously damaging the company’s image. It’s best to avoid taking a chance on tools that have not been explicitly approved for your use.

Most of All: Just Use Common Sense

Working from home has its rewards, but it certainly can be challenging. The bottom line is to just be cautious and practice the same measures you would take while in the office to keep company data and resources secure. A little bit of extra precaution goes a long way in preventing careless mistakes that could have far-reaching consequences. Stay safe!

By: Dr. Khatina Brunson


Additional Reading

10 Quick Tips for Avoiding Distractions at Work

The Dangers of Using a VPN on Home Computers for Work and What To Do Instead

Yes, Tech Companies May Listen When You Talk To Your Virtual Assistant

Do’s and Don’ts of Videoconferencing Security