Working from home is the dream for a lot of people, but for those in charge of a company’s security, it might seem like more of a nightmare. Employees end up using their personal devices for working with corporate data and don’t have access to strong protective measures like they would at the office. They might click on a link without proper security, and suddenly a hacker has access to your otherwise well-guarded data.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your employees and clients from data breaches when your staff is working from home. From implementing antivirus programs to private network requirements, we’ve put together a guide on developing a robust work-from-home security policy.

Ensure Physical Security

You may think the home is one of the safest places a device can be. After all, there are no prying eyes in your living room. Unless, of course, your roommate brings a few friends over while you step out for lunch, or your kids see your computer and decide they want to play some games. Employees should always close their laptops or put their computers to sleep if they plan to step away from them. Even if they fully trust those in their household, children and friends could accidentally open them up to data risks.

If possible, keeping supplies in a separate room, such as a home office, offers a more secure work-from-home setup. Employees can shut the door and keep other members of the household out of their work area. Even with an office, they should follow best practices for home office security, like logging out if they step away from their desk and locking the door if sensitive data is lying around.

In regards to sensitive data, employees must maintain secure disposal practices for any documents they use. Employees may be used to using a shred bin at work, and should still do so whenever sensitive information is around. Instruct them not to toss it in the trash.

If staff members choose to work somewhere outside of the home, such as a library or coffee shop, this is doubly important. They should never leave devices unattended. Even if they don’t leave their computer unattended, someone could sneak a peek over their shoulder or take a picture of the screen. To prevent this, employees can position themselves against a wall or corner, where no one can stand behind them. Another option is to use a privacy shield, which makes a screen appear blank when viewed at an angle.

Secure Your Home Network

Most offices are fully outfitted with corporate-level network security. Your home Wi-Fi? Not so much. Cybersecurity when working from home is a significant concern for everyone involved. Strong network security can prevent outside agents from accessing corporate data and tracking digital activity. It is critical to keeping sensitive and non-sensitive data from getting in the hands of hackers.

If you think people are at less risk because of how inconspicuous home networks are, think again. Many hackers focus on individuals as weak points to gain access to corporate data. In fact, phishing and the use of stolen credentials were the two most common threat actions in breaches in 2019. These methods use individual employees to gain access to the broader network of information, such as pulling login information from a connection that isn’t secure.

As more and more people have begun to work from home, experts have had to issue warnings about the damage these less-secure home networks can do, with some citing a 40% rise in phishing and other cyber scams. While you likely don’t need to supply your employees with the highest security protocols out there, they can take a few simple steps to improve their home network security significantly.

1. Router Encryption

Start by taking a look at your router settings. The first thing employees should do is ensure that encryption is turned on. Usually, this will be in the form of WPA2 or WPA3 protections. These stand for Wi-Fi Protected Access and are the most current versions of this high-grade security protection. If someone doesn’t have these options, they may need to update the system or consider upgrading their router.

Network encryption scrambles your data, so outsiders can’t read it. Encryption is a complicated science, but it boils down to decoding messages with the help of a key, or an algorithm that can decrypt a message. Remember that any message from a computer is really just ones and zeroes. Encryption alters those numbers into a new form, while decryption reverts it to its original format.

2. Update Settings

Next, your staff members should update their routers so security settings reflect the most current technology. One method hackers use is targeting users who haven’t updated their tech and are open to problems that would otherwise be patched.

Another thing to consider is the router’s password. Make sure it isn’t the default that came with it. Something unique would be much more secure.

3. Turn Off File Sharing

If a personal computer is becoming a work computer, make sure its data isn’t visible to other computers on the user’s network. For instance, if the whole family usually connects to a home network to share files, have the employee unlink their device. If they must stay connected, they can at least turn off the option to share files.

Use Strong Passwords

You likely already know that having a strong password is a good practice. It’s a straightforward way to prevent easy access to sensitive company info and private data, as well.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a strong password.

  • Avoid the obvious: Don’t use a birthday, the word “password” or sequential keys like “12345” and “qwerty.” While they may be easy to remember, they’re also easy for hackers to guess.
  • Add length: The longer a password is, the more difficult it is to brute force it. A brute force attack uses a computer program to guess every combination possible until it reaches yours. More characters mean more combinations.
  • Mix up the characters: Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Try to use them in unpredictable ways. Replacing an “O” with a zero or capitalizing the first letters of dictionary words, for instance, are fairly common approaches.

There are also a few tricks you can use to make something more memorable. Consider using a string of bizarre words or the first two letters of each word in a sentence. For instance, “My dog Coco is a Great Dane,” becomes “MydoCoisaGrDa.” Another approach is to use a random password generator until one of the suggestions seems like something you can memorize.

Working from home may involve using passwords for tools that employees would otherwise have automatic access to. If your company doesn’t already have a single sign-on tool, consider endorsing a reputable password manager in your remote working security policy. A password manager allows you to enter one master password. Then, it can automatically fill in login information as needed so employees don’t have to write down all their passwords or store them on an insecure platform.

Install a VPN When Not Using Public Wi-Fi

A virtual private network (VPN) is another method of securing an internet connection. VPNs are most commonly used when joining a public network, but can also come in handy with home networks. Securing the remote worker’s network privacy is critical in both situations.

With an unsecured network, your actions are typically visible to your internet service provider (ISP) and can be accessed more easily by other hackers. A VPN works by masking your internet protocol (IP) address, so your online actions are virtually untraceable.

To do this, the VPN creates a data tunnel from the local network with an exit in another location, which makes it seem like you’re in another place. It also scrambles your data on a Wi-Fi network for more security. Since it masks your IP address, your ISP can’t see what you’re up to.

A VPN is a must-have if you’ll be working in locations outside the home. Even in a home office, a VPN can add another layer of network security. If you’re working with particularly sensitive data, you may benefit from a home VPN, but it isn’t a substitution for a secure network setup. Another situation in which you might want a VPN is if your landlord provides your internet. They could theoretically get access to your browsing activities.

Separate Work and Home

Maintaining a separation between work and home life is a smart move for mental health and employee happiness, but it can also improve your business security practices.

For employees lucky enough to have two devices on their hands, using one for work and one for personal use is an excellent idea. They can keep personal data from becoming entangled with corporate data, so in the event of a breach on either front, only one is compromised. If your employees are working off of a personal computer, they can at least create a separate account for work tasks.

With a separate account, employees can log off at the end of the day and have a stronger sense of finishing up at the “office.” Plus, it’s password-protected, so they have added security. If employees mix work and play, they risk making both types of information more vulnerable and making things more confusing.

Keep in mind that other family members using a work device can also put sensitive data at risk, as well as personal data. If kids submit homework on a work device and that device is compromised, their information could also fall into hackers’ hands. Children and other family members may not know about appropriate security practices, such as identifying phishing emails and clicking on dangerous links.

Install Antivirus Software

One more measure that can significantly protect your data is antivirus software. Your work network is likely complete with corporate-level security precautions and antivirus programs, but a home network is only as safe as its owner makes it.

Antivirus software, as the name implies, prevents viruses from damaging a device — but they can do more than that. Many programs can do things like preventing you from accidentally visiting dangerous webpages or downloading risky attachments. While expensive antivirus software may have more capabilities or features, even a free version can provide a much-needed boost to employee systems and significantly decrease their risk.

Some of the features antivirus can offer include:

  • Malware scans: The software will look for viruses, Trojan horses, spyware, worms, and other types of damaging entities that can put data or a device at risk. These risks may be located in files, webpages, emails, links and other sources.
  • Browser integration: Many antivirus programs integrate with your browser and can alert you to risky websites or downloads before you use them.
  • Email protection: Some antivirus software can scan emails before you open them, alerting you to potential malware. They might also block images or content that is anything but trustworthy.
  • Automatic updates: If you remember, one common point of vulnerability is systems that need updating. Antivirus programs often use auto-updates, and employees must keep this feature active. As annoying as it may be to spend time updating your software, it’s critical to their device security as hackers are frequently developing new attack methods.
  • Network protection: Some antivirus programs will include network protection measures, such as closing open ports and monitoring connections.

You can help your employees use suitable antivirus software by asking them to download a program that your IT team has vetted and decided on. Depending on your needs, it may be worth providing paid options to your employees so they get all the benefits necessary to keep your company’s sensitive data secure. Consider making it a part of your remote working security policy, so your requirements are clear.

Need Assistance With Virtual Setup and IT?

Working from home isn’t something that every business is prepared for. Whether your employees have always had the option or it’s something new to your organization, you can protect your business and its data by putting robust security measures in place. Your employees don’t need to be limited by the need for security — we can set them up with all the tools they need to do their best work without unnecessary risks.

Here at Whizkids, we can help in several different areas including:

  • Managed IT and help desk: With managed IT services, we can walk your employees through implementing their secure work-from-home setup and troubleshoot if problems come up. If you need assistance with something at headquarters, we can help there, too.
  • Cloud services: One way many organizations are switching to work-from-home structures involves using cloud services, where employees can access data over the internet. As you can imagine, these setups need strong security in place. Our experts can put together cloud services and help integrate them into your business.
  • Managed security: Whether you want to join forces with our security operations center or are looking for other security solutions, we can get you set up so you’re ready when security threats present themselves.

To talk more about the unique needs of your business and how we can create more powerful security for you and your employees, get in touch with us today.

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