13 Tips to Work Remotely, Safely

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The number of people out in the world currently working from home is staggering, and for all its conveniences, it’s also remarkably convenient for a cybercriminal to exploit those workers that aren’t up to date with the best practices of cybersecurity.

In the U.S., giants like Twitter, J.P Morgan, Apple, Microsoft, NASA and Amazon have been preparing for a number of weeks now for the majority of their staff to work remotely... and safely, and around the globe the transition has been even more dramatic. In countries around the world, the transition has been even wider in scope, and faster in their implementation. European countries have been in lockdown conditions for a number of weeks, forcing employers to adapt their traditional model in favour of business as usual in their brick-and-mortar headquarters. In the early stages of the pandemic, Google trialed its extended remote-work scenario after an employee developed ‘flu-like’ symptoms. The same methodologies and cautions have been exercised all across the globe now, however, employers face another potentially existential crisis if those remote workers don’t have the basics of cybersecurity under control.

Some of the larger organisations out there may well have informed their staff of these policies already, considering just how high the stakes are when it comes to keeping sensitive information secure while operating remotely. In the chance that you haven't, we’ve compiled a quick list of the best ways you can make sure your network is private and secured, so you won’t be the entry-point for a hacker to compromise your employer, or your own finances.

Use passphrases- not passwords; don’t reuse these on multiple sites.

Get ahead of the hackers with an extremely tough password, ideally, a passphrase to make your account an impossible feat to crack. Typically, hackers will employ a machine to guess your password, and if they’ve got any of your personal details - such as your interests, pets or family - they can refine their guesses to become more accurate. If you, for example, have been using a pet’s name in combination with a number, this can be compromised fairly easily. Try to remember a phrase unique to your personal experience, and combine this with capital letters, special characters and numbers. It’s also important to think if you’re using the same password across a number of logins, be them for work or your personal use. If one account was compromised - and you’re unaware of the breach - then the rest of your accounts are at risk. If you’re not using the same password on multiple accounts, you eliminate the risk of hackers taking control of different accounts.

Alternatively, utilise a password manager to keep track of your login and password details; a number of these password managers will regularly change your password on sites.

Use a virtual private network.

You’ve probably heard of a VPN, but you might still be unsure as to what exactly it does. In the early days, they were valuable to users that wanted to fool a website as to their location, so they could access certain content online. In terms of cybersecurity, however, they’re a useful tool to encrypt the data your device sends and receives. In normal internet usage, your device and browsing history leaves a trail of data that someone can vacuum up and target your device specifically. With the use of a VPN, your internet service provider, government agencies and most importantly, hackers are essentially locked out from viewing what you’re doing online. One downside of a VPN, however, is that it can slow down the speed of your browsing and while in a video conference; that’s a small price to pay for a secure browsing experience that protects you and your employer from a disastrous cyber attack.

Make sure your employer has two-factor authentication in place.

Multi-factor or two-factor authentication is one of the most effective ways to keep those unauthorised from entering your private and work accounts. You would have already noticed this employed on crucially-sensitive information like financial logins, or when making a transfer to a new account. It requires an additional step in the verification process to authenticate that you’re the person that you say you are when logging in. There’s a large number of software and even email providers that offer multi-factor authentication, you - or your IT department - need to ensure that it’s switched on. This is particularly vital for employees that have been granted access to extremely sensitive information that could be in turn held for ransom by a hacker, sold to a competitor or leaked online to damage your organisation’s reputation.

Up-to-date Anti-virus software

Just as the techniques employed by hackers continue to evolve, so does the protections that software developers can put into place in their systems. With this in mind, if you haven’t updated certain applications and pieces of software to the latest version, you’re likely to miss out on some vital ‘patches’ that are designed to keep your data safe, and unauthorised third parties out of your data.

Secure your router

This is perhaps the most significant point when it comes to working remotely: ensuring that your router - the machine essentially powering your internet connection - is safe and secured. One of the most obvious signs that your router needs to be reconfigured is that you’re using the same wifi password as the day it was installed. Changing this - in line with a tough passphrase we discussed previously - is a great start, as well as making sure the device has updated its firmware and security updates to make sure that any potential vulnerabilities are addressed. In addition, the encryption level of your router should be set to WPA2 or WPA3, and your inbound and outbound traffic should be restricted. Consider watching a youtube clip relevant to your exact model of router, or contacting your organisation’s IT department to make sure you’ve got the most secure router possible.

Update your firewall settings

Likewise, establishing a firewall in your system is an absolute must for cybersecurity while operating remotely. It’s very likely that in your office, the IT department has established a number of firewalls, which are designed to prevent threats entering your system by creating a barrier between devices and the internet while closing off certain ports that could be compromised. Whether you're using a phone, computer or laptop, the device will have a built-in firewall in place as a default, but it’s worth considering third-party options from reputable vendors to ensure that your cybersecurity while working remotely is as robust as possible.

Backup and encrypt data

This is an extremely - and often forgotten - aspect of cybersecurity, and sadly, the importance of it often doesn’t present itself until it’s too late. If you’ve ever clicked on our blog, you’d be aware that hackers often employ a ransomware attack on an organisation, which essentially locks up that data until a ransom is paid, where a hacker will make it accessible again. The risk of this happening to your organisation might be relatively low, but the stakes are so high these days that it would be extremely misguided to ignore it. In order to reduce the severity of an attack like this, keep your data backed up - and encrypted - which can be done either with a physical hard drive or via the cloud.

Remote desktop tools

These have been popular in recent years, but present such a threat to cybersecurity that a number of industry analysts are warning against a number of them. A remote desktop allows you to take control of a machine in the office, but it also grants access to a third-party if you’re not careful and have the aforementioned precautions in place. Make sure you’re utilising a reputable remote desktop tool provider in your organisation, and not opting for the cheapest option.

Be Vigilant with phishing emails and scams

As we reported just yesterday, there has been a 667% increase in the number of phishing emails sent, due to the fact that hackers are well aware the majority of employees are operating remotely, and will check their work and personal email accounts more often. As a precaution, some organisations will have a spam folder that captures most of the potential spam and phishing emails, but hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated with these attempts and can fool an email provider’s filters. This is the time to be extremely cautious with your browsing and which emails you open up… Avoid ever opening an attachment included in an email unless you know the sender personally, and look for simple things like spelling mistakes or bizarre domain addresses that are nefarious look-alikes of popular names and marques.

Encrypt your communications where possible

While communicating with your colleagues, your employer should be looking at messaging platforms that include some form of encryption in their services to keep the organisation safe and secure. Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram all offer end-to-end encryption in their services, and there will no doubt be a bigger move from popular providers to match this with the recent explosion of remote workers. Regardless of how menial or niche a message may seem, if it were to be compromised by a third-party, it could prove an essential piece of the puzzle for a hacker looking to exploit your organisation’s network for their gain- and your loss.

Avoid Public WIFI

All things considered, this point isn’t as relevant as the rest when it comes to staying safe while you’re working on a remote basis. It is, however, an essential piece of cybersecurity knowledge to be aware of, which we’ve written about in an article you can access here.

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