How To Protect Your Home Office From Cyber Attacks
Six simple steps to reduce the risk of being hacked while working from home during the coronavirus crisis
Most people have never worked from home. Only one week after the global effort to reduce the spreading of the coronavirus, people like you and me find ourselves doing the same things as usual, but with the comfort of our own homes.
And without your boss or the nerd in IT breathing down your neck and following your every (digital) move, you can embrace working in a way that you think is productive.
But before sitting in front of your work computer, possibly naked and relaxed and ready to rumble, you should make sure you don’t put either yourself or your company at risk.
If you follow these six simple steps, you’ll significantly reduce the risk of being hacked during this novel coronavirus crisis.
Separate your professional and your private life
Many of us can take the employer’s computer back home, a laptop, or even a desktop personal computer. But you shouldn’t use this device as casually as you use your own.
Separating your private and your professional life, especially in the digital world, is very important at the moment. It was always important, of course, but now, during the COVID-19 catastrophe, it’s essential.
If you surf the Internet privately with your employer’s computer, you can catch dangerous malware by opening the wrong emails, even by clicking on the wrong link in your favorite web browser.
If your router allows it, you could create your own ‘work WLAN’ and connect to the internet through this separate line. If this is not possible, or if you don’t know how to do it yourself, you should at least make sure that the devices connected to your home network can’t communicate with one another.
And since we’re currently forced to be at home with our families, the people you love so much might actually make things difficult for you later. Just imagine answering the door for a delivery and then coming back to your work laptop. Yes, your 3-year-old child has actually spilled cereal + milk all over the keyboard; congratulations, the laptop is now a paperweight.
This is something to think about while we’re confined to small spaces with more than two or three people. The proper handling of expensive and important electronic devices should be taught as early as possible, but kids being kids, even the most rigorous living room policies will be disregarded sooner or later 👶
Protect yourself from social engineering
Spammers and #covidiots are everywhere now, but one group of cybercriminals is even more dangerous than script kiddies and obnoxious people in denial:
Social engineers will do anything in their power to gain access to information that they shouldn’t have by impersonating other employees or any entity that could make way for a serious intrusion.
These social engineers are usually good at what they do and if you look closely you’ll see that they put much more effort into deceiving you than regular spammers.
It’s very important to be extra-cautious when it comes to this kind of cyber attack. Protecting yourself, your family, and your company from heartless & conniving people should be one of your top priorities during the coronavirus crisis.
Be super-cautious with all incoming emails
Caution is currently required, no, mandatory, while handling emails related to the coronavirus. Phishing emails contain links to dangerous websites with the aim of intercepting the user’s access data.
Furthermore, a lot of emails with malicious software are being sent right now during times of uncertainty. Please refrain from opening any mails containing an attachment. If you don’t know or trust the sender, don’t open it. Better yet: delete it.
If your company policy requires you to forward suspicious emails to IT support, do that instead.
Malware, phishing emails and the increased volume of plain spam is bad enough already, but another danger lurks in the depths of your inbox.
Be prepared to receive lots of emails containing fake news and dangerous conspiracy theories, e.g. the coronavirus death toll being totally exaggerated or hints at a conspiracy involving rogue states setting free the virus as some kind of biological weapon.
Avoid taking problematic screenshots
Sure, you’re bored and you want to share stuff with your colleagues, funny cat GIFs, selfies from your online meetings or video conference calls, and of course screenshots.
Taking screenshots is the most convenient way nowadays to quickly share a status update, to remind somebody on your team to do something in a timely manner, and to illustrate IT problems you might run into.
Be careful not to over-share. And before sharing any screenshots, make sure to either anonymize the critical parts or to obfuscate them.
- Anonymize names, addresses, and all contact information
- Censor profile pictures and other personal information
- Make URLs and emails unreadable
The last one is important. Many online collaboration platforms use private invite links (URLs) that are for your eyes only. By screenshotting web addresses, uninvited guests might gain access to your meetings or generally anything that you have access to.
It’s boring, yes, but it’s also necessary to disguise the critical parts of any screenshot. The easiest way is by using a blur or pixel filter in your favorite image editing app. I use The GIMP for this task.
The resulting image is much less problematic than the original and the time it takes to censor the vital parts of any of your screenshots makes up for any bad surprises a few days or even weeks later.
Try to avoid problematic screenshots altogether until you’re confident to have ‘the eye’ for questionable image content.
It’s tempting to share working-from-home-selfies but think about all the things that can go wrong if you’re not careful.
The social engineers mentioned earlier are most likely to be interested in all those private conversations you saved and shared as seemingly harmless ‘home office memes’.
Talk to your team on a regular basis
Normally you’d chat a bit in your break, water-cooler kind of talk — that’s a no-go now.
But communicating with your team, your colleagues, is vital for your mental health in this lock-in phase of the crisis.
Standing together, even if only virtually, means something, especially in these dark times of uncertainty.
Exchanging (private) information digitally is essential to stay in the loop and to connect with other human beings. Of course, good old telephone conversations might be on the rise again very soon, but honestly, the world is revolving around bits and bytes nowadays.
There was a time to resist social media and apps like WhatsApp or Telegram, but this is probably not it, at least if you want to be part of an increasingly digital society.
By staying in touch with your team you’ll always know what’s going on in your company, and in stressful situations you’ll be glad that you have these people around you. We’re all in the same boat now, floating, adrift, lonely.
Trust the IT professionals
The last tip to protect yourself from cyber attacks in your home office is really simple. Contact your IT support (if there is any) whenever you run into problems concerning your home office setup.
You should follow the instructions of IT support employees and your employer, especially in the current situation.
Asking Google to solve a computer problem might result in devastating chaos. Sure, it seems easy enough to do on paper, but many cogs and gears are not to be tempered with if you’re not a professional.
Cyber attacks can be ‘over’ rather quickly. Ideally, the attacker gets what he wants without being detected in flagranti, without anybody suspecting anything. And then it’s already too late.
Time is a critical factor in situations related to IT security.
So, don’t hesitate to talk to your IT professional if you feel lost.
The ‘Happy Home Office’ Publication
I’ve been working from home for more than ten years now and I want to share all the tips and tricks that made my freelancer journey easy and fun.
Happy Home Office
Working from home in a home office is the new normal. Embrace your freedom to work the way to think is best.
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