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Remote Risks: Cybersecurity and Working from Home

For a while, pre-pandemic, the first thing that came to mind for many of us when we heard “virus” was a suffering computer. Though the word now evokes different things, the risk for contracting a virus of the virtual kind remains.

There’s more to cyber crime than viruses, though, and the alternatives (ransomware, phishing) can be especially costly for businesses and individuals.

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a surge in online criminal activity. By March 31st, American consumers had already reported a combined loss of nearly $4.8 million in coronavirus-related fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, and businesses are also being impacted, notably hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Due to the current digital crime climate, organizations and individuals need to be more vigilant with cyber security more than ever. It is not always easy to enhance cyber safety, and with the rapid shift to remote work undertaken by many companies, improving security can seem more daunting than ever.

Here are some tips on how to maximize cyber security for employees working from home:

  • Use the technology your employer provides. Norton (the anti-virus people) recommends controlling “the impulse to improvise.” If the technology you are provided does not work, do not download an unapproved app/software to replace it. Ask for help.
  • Make sure the WiFi you use is secure/private, not a public connection.
  • Be on the lookout for anything strange. According to Forbes, if the computers suddenly slows, there are unusual pop-ups, control of the mousepad or keyboard are lost, or programs you did not install appear, there may be a security breach. Notify your IT specialist right away.
  • Install and update anti-spam and malware protection as recommended.
  • Change your passwords frequently and make them hard to guess! (And you may want to periodically change your router credentials as well.)
  • Since phishing ploys are on the rise, use your critical thinking skills and be suspicious of emails/weblinks, especially if the communication appears to be about COVID-19. Don’t click on anything unless you know where the link will take you.

And for employers managing remote workers:

  • Provide corporate equipment if you can. You have more control over the security of business computers and phones than personal ones.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication where possible (e.g. the user needs to enter a one-time code in addition to their password).
  • Encrypt your data. This is always recommended for businesses who collect and store the personal information of their clients, and is even more important when that data is being accessed remotely. Tech World explains encryption as a system of algorithms that encodes data by scrambling it so only the person with the “encryption key” can unscramble it. Basically, it means your data will be unintelligible to anyone who shouldn’t be seeing it.
  • Grant everyone the security access they need, and no more. The fewer people who have access to the most sensitive information the better.
  • Use virtual private networks (VPNs) to help keep your data secure and private, but…
  • …don’t blindly trust your VPNs. They are a great tool, but imperfect, says Entrepreneur magazine, so employers should understand how they work and where they may be vulnerable to attack. Different businesses have different VPN needs – consult an expert to find the right match for you.
  • Create guidelines and expectations for employees surrounding use of webcams, digital meeting platforms, and screen sharing.

Fear and uncertainty, like we find during a pandemic, make many people more susceptible to social engineering (phishing) scams, in particular. Remind your employees to think before they click, and to not share sensitive information if anything about the request seems off.

Things are difficult enough for businesses and workers right now without dealing with a cyber attack or data breach. Talk to your risk manager for more suggestions on how to best protect your company from cybercrime.

The European Union Agency for Cyber Security has good tips for employers and employees working remotely.

For an overview of cyber insurance, click here.

Morgan Thomas, BA (Dtn.)
Project Management & Customer Experience Coordinator

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