Remote work changed the way in which we use everyday digital devices for business. Whether that means using a personal computer for work, logging into a VPN, relying on video tools, or having a company-owned laptop at home, the way in which we work — and stay safe from cyber threats — has changed. Employees play an even larger role in preventing cyber theft in a remote world. Thankfully there are a few simple steps everyone can take to stay protected while working outside of the office.
Good cybersecurity starts at home
The best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our systems while working remotely is to ensure our network, hardware, and software services are all secure. Begin with your connection: if you use WiFi at home, be sure to password-protect the network you use for work. Unsecured WiFi connections can allow third parties to access your network. From there, hackers can install tracking software and access network traffic — thus putting your personal information, passwords and browsing history at risk.
Many internet routers come with tools that can also help you stay safe online. Enable your router’s firewall if it has one. A firewall can restrict outside computers from connecting to devices on the network, which can help keep cyber criminals at bay. Also consider setting up a guest network for visitors. This way, you can limit the number of people who access the main network and the information associated with it.
Last but not least, change your router login password from the default one that came with the device. If anyone is able to access your router, they can make a host of harmful changes — or even lock you out of device entirely.
Be smart when moving and sharing files
Sometimes the biggest risk to a network is from the outside in. When you email work documents to or from a personal account, you run the risk of having data leak out of the business network and into the world of your own digital presence. One successful phishing attack on your personal email can expose your company to information theft if you’ve passed information between your personal and work accounts.
Many security-minded businesses have safeguards in place to keep their network, and the devices on it, safe from bad actors. A virtual private network (VPN) allows companies to run computers on on-site or cloud networks they can control, even when you’re using your home internet. Not all companies use this technology, however, which might mean that an employee’s work files and personal files are intermingled. This can lead to data leaks in the event that your personal computer or email are breached.
It’s crucial to keep your work and personal computing as separate as possible. The temptation to email a document from a work address to a personal address is high, especially in a remote work world. As soon as the file hits your personal inbox, the risk of it being stolen as part of an account breach increases significantly. If you do need to move files, consider business-approved applications to do so.
Act like you’re in the office
What are the key cyber security risks of working remotely? Perhaps surprisingly, one of the biggest risks is our own approach to how we use our tech in the home office.
Working from home can allow you to put your guard down in several ways. It’s important, however, that remote workers treat their work equipment the same way you would if you were in the office. That could mean thinking twice before clicking on a malicious link, visiting a potentially harmful website, or being too cavalier with how and why you use your devices.
When on a work device at home or outside of work, use it as you would within the office. The same degree of skepticism that might arouse in the office should also set off alarm bells when you’re not at your desk. Installing software that isn’t approved or provided by your company can expose the entire network to attacks, so think twice before downloading an app you wouldn’t normally use in the office as part of your job.
Update frequently and follow your IT department’s advice
Businesses have had to adapt rapidly to the remote-work shift. Management is in a unique position where it now has to keep entire networks protected from cyber attacks, even though the underlying equipment is off-site and harder to keep safe. So how can you best protect yourself from cyber attacks at work? One way is to update software and follow IT guidance whenever available.
Software developers are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities. So too is your IT department. When you’re instructed to update software, you’re helping prevent intrusions as threats occur. Not updating software can allow cyber criminals into the network even if other users have updated their own installations. All it takes is one breach.
On the other hand, be sure to reach out to your IT department before updating software on your own. Sometimes organizations need additional time to vet updates to make sure they don’t adversely impact networks or other software. When in doubt, talk to your technology professional.
Big and small steps add up
Shifting to remote and hybrid work has been a major shift for many of us. With it comes its own challenges, least of which having to do with your cybersecurity both personally and professionally.
What is the best defense against a cyber attack? Our own vigilance, in many cases. There are some steps we can all take to stay safe, such as restricting where and how you transmit data and what kind of password protection you put on your home network. In most cases, common sense and discretion go a long way toward keeping safe.