The current pandemic has many suddenly finding themselves working from home. Since this is how we have structured our “office” from the get-go, we understand the challenges of this setup – challenges made even more difficult by the fact that this shift happened so abruptly. Even under the best circumstances, accessing, understanding and protecting technology in a home office can be a beast. We’re here to help you tame the beast.
We know this post is long, but technology is complex. And while we can only start to scratch the surface here, our goal is to help you get a handle on the technology you need to work from home and how to best utilize and protect it, so bear with us as we cover:
- Identifying what technology is needed to work from home.
- Ensuring you have enough bandwidth to stay connected.
- Securing your devices and data.
- Protecting yourself from hackers.
Today’s Focus: Taming (and Protecting) the Technology Beast
In today’s world, when someone says, “technology,” they can be referring to almost anything they perceive as being IT-related. Sure, it is often in reference to physical equipment, such as laptops, tablets, gaming systems, smart phones and other devices that bring to mind images of circuit boards, but it is also used to refer to software, platforms, apps and connectivity tools. There are security concerns, talk of data retention and breaches, and those scary hackers out there ready to steal your life. When you find yourself setting up shop at the kitchen table, all these aspects may make you want to stick your head in the sand. Where do you start?
Ask Yourself: What do I need?
It might sound simplistic, but taking a minute to assess your actual technology needs is worth the time. Know the answers to:
- What role do I have in my company?
- What devices will I need?
- What software/programs/platforms will I be using?
- How will I access my programs and data?
- Am I going to need to be able to print? Scan? Fax (Yes, some people still do this!)
- Am I going to need a webcam? Is one built into my laptop?
- Am I going to be using my own device or ones that are provided by my company?
For work purposes, eliminate everything not essential. Love your iPad but really only use it to play Candy Crush and browse Facebook? Sorry, it doesn’t get to stay on your desk. The only devices that should be on your desk are ones you’re going to use for work.
Know Your WiFi Capabilities. Even Consider Plugging In.
Most likely you already have internet and even wireless in your home. If you don’t, you’re going to need to change that! What you might be less sure of, though, is how much use your home network can take. Now that many of us are working from home at the same time as other household members are binge-watching shows, attending classes via webinars and streaming music non-stop, your internet connection might not be as powerful as you thought.
As you set up your home office and review your technology needs, make sure you have the internet support required. You might even consider going “old-school” and hard-wiring into your network. It’s going to be trouble if you lose hours of work on a project because Fluffy’s addiction to America’s Cutest Cat causes your program to time out. If needed, set parameters. Fluffy can binge on Animal Planet from 6:00 – 8:00 a.m., but after that, she’d better plan on napping.
Secure Your Devices and Data
Ideally, your company has provided you with the technology you need. Even more ideally, your company’s IT team will handle protecting that technology. But the reality is that not all companies can provide every employee with everything they need to work from home, especially right now when obtaining a laptop is akin to being able to buy extra toilet paper. If it comes down to using your personal laptop and cell phone, you’re going to want to protect yourself and your company from potential threats.
Install Endpoint Protection Software
At an absolute minimum, make sure you have current end-point protection for your devices – which is really just a fancy way of saying protect your devices. Think of it as the ubiquitous mask and gloves. Shield your devices from bringing in bad things and from spreading them to other devices or networks your computer “touches”. Also, get the best you can afford. Anti-virus is good, but internet security features are better. There are many options out there that can protect not just your laptop, but also your smartphone and tablet.
Access Data Securely
How you access your programs and data is going to vary. One company might be utilizing Office 365 to access data remotely, while another has set up a VPN. Each setup is going to be slightly different depending on your organization; however, there are some basic precautions you can take.
- Limit Others Using Your Devices
Limit other users/personal use on the devices you are using for work. Security breaches often occur because a device is used by a child downloading an infected game or unknowingly clicking on a link that compromises your device, which in turn could compromise your company’s data and/or network.
- Use Secure Passwords
Even though Bruno is the best dog ever, setting your password to BrunoRules2020 is not the best idea ever. Take the time to set secure passwords. A good approach is to think of a sentence that makes sense to you, and turn it into a password.For example: “Bruno Is The Only one Who Gets Me” can translate to: BiTO1WgM. Add in a couple of symbols that make sense to make it more secure. Bruno is probably expensive, and you’ve been dreaming about having a dog since you were 8, so how about $BiTO1$WgM8$?Just remember, don’t use the same password for multiple things. If memorizing passwords is a struggle, utilize a secure password keeper (and by that we mean something like LastPass, not a sticky note stuck to your monitor) to organize and even generate unique passwords for all your accounts.
- Enable MFA
Many accounts have the option of turning on Multifactor Authentication, which will require you to enter a second set of credentials to access your account. Although this is an additional step, and will slow down your login just a bit, MFA helps to safeguard your accounts in the instance that your login information has been compromised.
- Don’t Use Public WiFi
Although it’s tempting to jump onto the local coffee shop’s free WiFi while you’re enjoying your mocha latte and crank out a report or balance your bank account, public WiFi is easily compromised. Tools are readily available and used by shady characters to do everything from slipping malware on your laptop to tricking you into connecting to what looks like the coffee shop’s legitimate WiFi, but is actually a rogue hotspot managed by the girl snapping her gum in the corner. Best practice – if you need to do things you don’t want made public, fire up your cell phone’s hotspot or wait until you are home to access confidential data.
Beware of Lurkers
In a traditional office, most of us like to set up our workstations so that the boss can’t sneak up behind us and see that we were actually shopping for party favors instead of working on the quarterly report. Now that we are working from home, we tend to be more relaxed about who can see what. After all, we trust our spouse and little Johnny can’t read yet. Even so, we recommend taking the same precautions as you would in a traditional office. Set up your laptop and monitors so that others can’t see what is on them. This will be important to remember moving forward, too. Once working from your favorite deli becomes a reality again, remember that there are others around you who might be able to steal company data because you have your back to the front window.
Remember, lurkers can be anywhere. Test what others can see when you’re on camera in a webinar. You don’t want your client to see the notes you’ve made about how much you’re marking up her account when you’re making your pitch virtually. For that matter, be careful of sharing pictures of your new office setup. Before posting, make sure no data is visible on your monitors or desk.
And of course, always, always lock your device when you walk away from it. In public, this habit will ensure no one is able to jump on and steal private information when you go to refresh your coffee. In your home, it’ll prevent Fluffy from strolling across your keyboard and sending the rant about your boss to him instead of your best friend.
Beware of Hackers
We’ve all heard the scary statistics about the rise in phishing, smishing, vishing, malware, spyware, ransomware and other scary-sounding things used by the bad guys that end up compromising devices being used for work at home. We have a lot to say on this topic and don’t worry, we will dive in deeper in future blogs. But for now, what can you do to protect yourself?
Hackers are leveraging the fear and uncertainty we are all feeling during this time to trick people into falling for phishing attacks. According to security vendor Barracuda, phishing attacks increased over 650% in March. Now, while emotions are high and actions are reactionary, remind yourself to take a breath. Nothing is so urgent you can’t take a few minutes to verify authenticity.
Double Check Everything
If you receive a message that appears to be from your Tech Department saying you need to install a new program or an update to make your connection to the office more secure, pick up the phone and call IT to verify the email’s authenticity.
Before accepting an unexpected meeting invite from your boss, check to make sure he is really the one who sent it. Don’t click links to access documents, accounts or password changes. Go straight to the source instead. Open the document from the network. Go directly to your email web portal to change your password.
Don’t Get Sloppy When Mobile
People are less cautious when using mobile devices, but the rules are the same. Don’t click links in text messages. If you receive a message from an app regarding an update, go directly to the app to install the update. And no far-away prince or oil tycoon battling an ugly divorce is ever going to send you money. Ever. Don’t click, don’t reply.
Got Technology Mastered?
No? It’s okay, it’s a big beast and one that keeps growing, keeps evolving. It’s appearance and capabilities change on a daily basis and it’s hard to keep up. Know the basics, and we’ll keep helping you understand your new pet.