Before the coronavirus pandemic, predictions were that 50% of the UK workforce would be working remotely by 2020. One UK Guardian online article describes how that shift in work locations has been accelerated and could become the “new normal” as a permanent feature of Londoners’ work options.
As the coronavirus pandemic has moved more workers outside the confines of their brick-and-mortar offices, home office workers find themselves in a new cyber-security threat environment. Locked doors and security measures at work are now replaced with home computer equipment with hackable routers and insecure connections.
The coronavirus acceleration and sudden increase of home workers has also caused an overload in demand for wifi broadband as internet service providers and corporate networks cope with increased loads on secure UK VPN servers. IT managers, in turn, have to deal with remote workers whose experience with cybersecurity measures is minimal to outright cavalier.
So, while telecommuters take advantage of the freedom, flexibility and convenience of working in the friendly confines of their homes, they need to adapt a new security mindset, which requires:
- commonsense physical security precautions in looking after the hardware
- a realization that secure access to their company must be through a secure VPN like Surfshark
Home telecommuting physical security precautions
Safeguarding the hardware
Desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones access and store enormous amounts of public and proprietary data. That data can also have tripwires of personal information protected by law.
Data breaches and unauthorized disclosure can bring sanctions ranging from loss of reputation to fines and imprisonment. There may be no criminal intent in leaving a laptop unattended before it is stolen. However, if ignorance of the law is no excuse, neither is carelessness. So, follow these basic physical security precautions to keep computing hardware safe:
Keep work and personal business separate.
Mixing work with personal business is inefficient and can lead to compromising sensitive data. For example, doing personal banking business and processing business invoices on the same device can lead to overload, clutter and mix-ups. If the work cannot be done on separate devices, set up separate user accounts on the computer’s operating system. Likewise, never use a personal email address to conduct work business.
Password protect hardware and mobile devices with secure, hard-to-crack passwords.
Devices should also be set to go in the automatic sleep mode when unattended. Never use the same password for access to every device or online user credentials. A password manager app or browser password security tracker are ideal ways to keep track of all those logins. They generate random, difficult-to-hack passwords.
Use the operating system’s hard drive encryption. If the computer is stolen the hard drive cannot be cloned or copied without the user’s password. Its hard drive will be impossible to clone without the encryption key.
Secure the home router’s password protection.
The home router is the easiest route for hackers into both the home and office network. Routers come prepackaged with a default user credentials. Change the router factory settings to a personal, difficult-to-crack router password.
Turn off or lock away hardware when not in use.
Family members and roommates are sometimes nosey and always naturally curious. Don’t tempt them by leaving work in progress open and unattended on the computer screen. Set the device’s sleep mode to require a secure password to reactivate the system. Collect mobile devices each day and store them out of plain sight.
Be cybersecurity aware
Cybersecurity awareness at home is about the same as workplace awareness. The Difference is that at home security awareness tends to be relaxed. Home offices don’t have the strong firewalls, security alarm warnings and vigilant IT people keeping the telecommuter’s network safe.
Hackers know that remote workers can be easier targets in their quest to breach a company’s network. When working at home, consider the following basics in cybersecurity awareness:
Use the device’s operating system built-in safeguards.
Windows Defender is an integrated program that provides basic protection against malware. Also, Mac computers have built-in security technology to thwart intruders and isolate its operating system. Take a few minutes to learn both how those safeguards work and what the user needs to do to take full advantage of these free features.
However, in the ongoing struggle between hackers and countermeasures, a frequently updated commercial cybersecurity product is good insurance. As a minimum, with or without professional grade antimalware detectors, users need to allow the operating system to install periodic security patches and updates.
Watch out for phishing scams.
Be suspicious of emails from unknown senders. Emails are the primary vectors of online fraud. Never open a file attachment or click on a link in an unsolicited email. Attachments could contain executable files that trigger ransomware. Links could direct the user to dark web sites that download all sorts of problems.
Keep a professional and businesslike profile on social media.
Avoid overexposure on line throughout the workday. People at work normally sign on to social media during lunch hour for personal contacts with friends and family. Deviating from that routine at home is a signal to hackers and scammers looking for victims. Also, social media are resources for ads targeting users who give out personal information to trolling advertisers.
Make sure the home wifi connection is secure.
A VPN (virtual private network) is a tool that London home workers should employ for extra security. There are two options: 1) set up a VPN on the home router, or 2) install a VPN on multiple devices.
Option 1 is a bit more complicated, and could require upgrading and purchasing a VPN-compatible router. It does have the benefit of protecting every device on the home network. Use option 2 to install a VPN on every device for guaranteed mobile protection when online outside the home office.
Never use an unsecured public wifi network.
At a coffee shop or in an airport, or from any free public wifi hot spot, logging into an unprotected network in the open is a terrible idea. Those networks attract hackers and thieves who can invade privacy and become a silent partner in a two-way transaction to hijack personal information and sign-in credentials.
Why London home workers need VPN
A VPN is an extra security layer on the user’s web traffic. VPN is an encrypted pathway–a “tunnel”–where the user’s internet traffic and location information flow in encrypted form with a masked IP address.
When the user transitions from the VPN server to a public website, the traffic remains secure–provided the website has the letter “S” after the “HTTP” header. If the target is subjected to surveillance, spies and hackers cannot trace the user unless they have government-grade surveillance capabilities. The user’s activity appears to come from a server other than the user’s actual location.
Examples of how a VPN protects London users
A VPN Is a Safe Harbour in Public Wifi Hotspots.
Cybersecurity experts advise against using a public Wifi network under any circumstances. However, a VPN can make the public network secure, because it encrypts the user’s connection. If the encrypted data is detected, it appears as unusable gibberish.
A VPN defeats geo-blocking.
Some airline ticket and travel sites have higher prices for users logging in from affluent areas. Other businesses likewise charge different prices for specific markets. Posing as a shopper from another location, a user can do comparison shopping with a VPN connection and get the best online deals.
A VPN thwarts surveillance and web activity tracking.
Internet service providers have an increasingly larger stake in tracking their customers’ online business. They have joined in the monetizing the flood of user data that made Google and Facebook leaders in web advertising and ecommerce. When an ISP bundles all that big data for sale, they do it without the knowledge or permission of the user. The result is unwanted and annoying surveillance and ads, spam email, and the end of online privacy.
A premium VPN like Surfshark will have a “no-log” feature. This feature hides the user’s online activity from the ISP. The ISP cannot sell or disclose the user’s activity data. With no logging of user’s activities, the ISP could not even respond to a court order for any user’s data, because no records would exist.
Summary and conclusion
Working at home in the UK will likely become the “new normal” for half the country’s workforce. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated that phenomenon. Londoner’s working from home need to take commonsense precautions. Those measures include safeguarding devices with password security.
Home workers are away from their normal workplace protections of firewalls and IT support staff. They must be aware of security risks and take measures to secure their wifi connections.
The added layer of security for home workers is through a VPN. Virtual private networks provide a secure, encrypted connection. They mask the user’s location and defeat online tracking through encryption. A worker using a VPN outside the home can safely use free public wifi spots.
A VPN also uses geo-blocking to help the user find local bargains not available to outside users. Finally, a VPN prevents ISP web tracking. When an encrypted VPN no-logs connection like Surfshark runs interference between the ISP and the user, the ISP cannot detect the user’s web activity.