By George Otte
As more people shift to working from home because of the pandemic, cybersecurity has increasingly become a significant concern for companies and individuals.
According to estimates, cybercrime costs global businesses at least $1.5 billion per annum, with the figure expected to rise in 2020 as people work remotely. Indeed, in the first half of 2019 alone, data breaches had exposed more than 4.1 billion records.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself while working remotely. According to experts, users are typically the weakest link in cybersecurity, but knowing that puts you in a better position to protect yourself.
Here are simple, practical steps you can take right now to safeguard your data working remotely.
Protect your computer
Your home-work computer is the first line of defense against major cyber threats. While some companies provide work computers or laptops, most new remote workers transitioned their private computers into work computers.
That’s fine, but you need to take cybersecurity seriously. You don’t want to end up accidentally posting sensitive company data on social media.
So, how do you protect your computer?
- Invest in a robust antivirus suite
First, install a strong antivirus suite. A good antivirus effectively protects you from most of the major cyber threats, including:
- Malware, viruses, and spyware
- Zero-day attacks that exploit new vulnerabilities before they are patched
- Phishing scams
- Trojans and worms
Additionally, since antivirus software runs in the background and updates automatically, you can expect protection from most new and emerging threats.
2. Keep your computer up to date
Set your computer to automatically receive and apply all security updates, especially Windows updates that patch critical vulnerabilities.
Lock it down
Whenever you step away from your computer, lock it down. While working from home seems safer with family around, issues still exist. For instance, your kids could accidentally delete critical files.
On Windows computers, press the Windows+L buttons. With modern Macs, Command+Control+Q works, or you can just close the lid. Always use a password to lock your computer down (more on that below).
3. Create stronger passwords
Like most people, you probably use several passwords every day. It’s tempting to default to a single password for everything, but that only increases your risks.
“Instead, consider using a password manager to store your passwords safely. Some password managers even let you create strong random passwords that further strengthens your cyber-defenses.” — George Otte
Great passwords have the following characteristics according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
- At least eight or more characters – the more, the better.
- A mixture of lowercase, uppercase letters, and numbers
- At least one special character, e.g., %@!?}[. However, avoid < and > as they cause problems on some browsers.
Secure your home wireless network
Home wireless networks are a soft target for hackers because most users don’t set a password or use weak passwords.
Here are some easy steps you can take right now to beef up security on your Wi-Fi at home and protect your data:
- Rename your SSID (the name of your network) to something cryptic and unpredictable. Do not use your name or other details that can identify you.
- Create and use a strong password (refer above) and ensure you change the router’s default settings.
- Use network encryption such as WEP, WPA, and WPA2. Users on newer hardware produced later than 2016 can use the strongest encryption, WPA2.
- Always upgrade your router’s firmware to the latest version, including installing the most recent security updates.
- Only allow specific MAC addresses to connect to your Wi-Fi at home. Every device connecting to your network has a unique code. If you know your trusted devices’ codes, you can lock out all other devices, further securing your network.
Minimize video conferencing security risks
Videoconferencing has gained popularity as people work, study, and socialize online. However, increased use of video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, has attracted cyber criminals out to cause chaos. You can protect your video conferencing sessions by:
- Opting for platforms that use end-to-end encryption like Webex, Microsoft teams, etc.
- Ensure all meetings are private and require passwords or individually approve guests
- Install the latest updates on your video conferencing client.
Secure data locally and in the cloud
Finally, take steps to protect your data by creating backups both locally and on cloud platforms. Keep backups of critical work documents, preferably encrypted to deter hackers.
Additionally, consider using a Virtual Private Network when connecting to or accessing your company’s network. A VPN encrypts your data and network traffic, making it inaccessible and unusable to cybercriminals.
George Otte is a Miami-based entrepreneur and executive with more than 15 years of multifaceted business operations experience.