People around the world are working from home to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, unfortunately, that has created more opportunities for infections of other kinds. Connecting remotely, using personal devices for work, and bringing professional devices outside the office mean you need to be proactive to frustrate hackers and block computer viruses and malware.
An infected personal device might be a path for something bad to get into a work network, and weak passwords and poorly-secured home Wi-Fi networks create other vulnerabilities. Here are some things you can do to help keep your employer and own personal data safe.
Lock It Up!
All your devices should be protected with strong passwords. Don't reuse passwords, and don't share them. At a minimum, try to use at least one uppercase letter, one number, and one symbol. Instead of trying to remember long and complicated passwords, password manager applications can help and provide extra layers of protection like two-factor authentication where you confirm your identity with a password and something else like a text message or email to a verified account. Most employers issue rules around online best practices and security; make sure you follow them.
Learn How to Protect Yourself from Phishing
Security experts say they're seeing a big increase in the number of online scams and phishing attacks related to the coronavirus outbreak. A phishing attack is an attempt to fool you into giving up valuable information or passwords with an email that appears to be genuine. Many of the bogus emails now have attachments or links that pretend to offer important COVID-19 information from places like your bank, doctor's office, employer, or a free Starbucks coupon.
Wherever you can, don't mix personal online activities with ones that are work-related on the same device. Be especially careful with emails related to the coronavirus, and don't click on links or open attachments unless you're entirely sure of the source. When in doubt, go directly to the sender's website to see if you can get the information there or make a phone call to ensure the email is genuine.
Emails that appear to be especially urgent and demand your immediate attention are the most suspicious. Emails from contacts who you know, but ask for odd things or want you to click on a link without explanation are also red flags.
If you're sending emails that contain sensitive information, make sure you're using encryption tools to protect it. Email can easily end up in the wrong hands, and you don't want it read by a third party. Also, make sure that data stored on your device is encrypted in case of theft.
Fortify Your Home Wi-Fi
Another way for hackers to get in is if your home Wi-Fi network is old or poorly protected with a weak password. Make sure your router offers WPA2 or WPA3 encryption, and that it's turned on. Change the name of the network, also known as the SSID (Service Set Identifier), to something other than the default name so hackers can't immediately tell what kind of router you have. Use a name that doesn't identify it as yours and use a strong password. "The Jones House," for example, just lets a hacker know which network is yours over your neighbors'.
Get Up to Date
Make sure that your virus protection software is up to date and that you've installed the latest operating system security patches—or that they're set to install automatically. Keep all of your applications up to date, too, as updates often fix security vulnerabilities. Never disable your firewall, and delete old software applications that you no longer use.
Back It Up!
If the worst happens and you are the victim of a ransomware attack—where hackers use malware to lock up the data stored on your device and demand you pay a ransom to get it back—the best defense is to have your data backed up somewhere else.
This goes beyond just having a physical external backup drive connected to your device. If you do that, you should back up at specific intervals and then disconnect the external drive so there's less chance of it being infected. Other solutions include cloud backup protection from providers that make multiple copies of your data so you can roll back to versions that are not infected in the event of an attack.
These are challenging times, but you can make them less so by defending yourself against hackers as you work from home. Make sure you're following these recommendations, and you'll go a long way towards protecting yourself and your employer.