Cyber crimes are on the rise, so it’s important to protect your personal and work-related information. Use these cybersecurity tips as a baseline to reduce common Internet security risks while working remotely.
11 Cybersecurity Tips for Telecommuters
According to CSO, an online platform for tech-giant IDG, the most common cybersecurity threats that telecommuters may face include:
- Socially engineered malware (misconfigured websites that trick users into installing malware)
- Password phishing (spam emails that request login credentials)
- Social media access (false friend requests and app installations that give hackers access to your information)
- Advanced persistent threats (hackers convince users to download malware and gain access to proprietary and confidential information)
Though cyber crimes are a real threat, they shouldn’t discourage you from working remotely. Here 11 cybersecurity tips to help you safely work from home or anywhere in the world.
1. Create Strong Passwords
Passwords are a type of user authentication. You want to use strong passwords to prevent other people or computers from accessing your information. As a rule of thumb, follow these tips when creating new passwords:
- Use at least eight characters but aim for as many characters as the system allows.
- Mix uppercase and lowercase letters.
- Include at least one number and special character, such as #, $, %, or &.
- Avoid using words found in the dictionary.
- Do not use personally identifiable information, such as names or birthdates.
For example, instead of passwords like “Snarfy1973,” where “Snarfy” is your dog’s name and 1973 is your birth year, shoot for something more complicated like “$n@RfYb@rK3D&8My5h()e.” Say what? Exactly. If you look closely, the phrase reads “Snarfy barked and ate my shoe.” Think of a phrase or sentence, then mix and match characters to make it nonsensical to others but recognizable to you.
Once you create your amazingly secure passwords, you should change them approximately every three months. Frequent password changes generate more work for hackers and help alleviate security risks.
2. Protect Your Passwords
Okay, so you created the most complicated passwords that confuse hackers around the world. That’s great, but how are you going to remember them? Write them down in a notebook and store it under your mattress? Keep a log on your phone? Put sticky notes all over your computer screen so that you can reference them quickly?
Here are some basic tips from the pros:
- Do not share your passwords with others.
- Prevent others from seeing you enter your passwords.
- Do not store passwords in a file located on your computer or mobile device.
- Do not write passwords down or do not store written passwords in visible locations.
Password managers, such as LastPass and Google Smart Lock, help you store and protect passwords you use frequently. They also relieve you of the need to remember a bunch of complicated, nonsensical character strings and reset your password every time you try to log in. However, using password managers is like shark cage diving – it makes you a clear target for predators. Though many security experts support and recommend password management programs, understand that there are still inherent risks.
3. Use Two-Step Authentication
Web apps like Gmail, Facebook, Office 365, and Amazon use two-step authentication to validate you as a user. Though it can be inconvenient and annoying, it provides double protection against hackers from accessing your accounts. Some apps prompt you to activate two-step when you sign in, but you can always update your preferences from the security settings within your account.
Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, also have two-step verification to protect your information. For example, most smartphones offer fingerprint or face recognition features to supplement passwords, numeric codes, and pattern locks. Depending on the device, you may be able to store “safe locations” and bypass extra security layers when you’re in a trusted place.
Two-step authentication may not be necessary when you’re working from home full time. However, when you travel or use a different device, it’s good to let the hosting company know that you’re legit. Anytime you see that “we don’t recognize this device” notification, be grateful that someone is looking out for your safety.
4. Safeguard Your Devices
Security isn’t just about warding off online hackers; it includes robbers and onlookers, too. In addition to using two-step authentication, take extra precautions to protect your devices from theft.
Never leave your laptop unattended in public places, such as coffee shops, airports, and hotel lobbies. If you spend time in co-working spaces, lock your screen whenever you leave your desk. Also, avoid entering passwords where others can see and try to sit with your back up to a wall so curious eyes can’t easily wander to your work.
5. Install Anti-Malware Software
U.S. companies spent an average of $2.4 million on malware attacks in 2017, according to Accenture’s Cyber Crime Cost Report. Malware is an umbrella term for software programs that cause harm to your computers, mobile devices, and network. Types of malware include viruses, Trojans, adware, spyware, ransomware, and scareware. Malware can infect your computer and network when you download infected software from the internet, attachments from spam emails, or images or files from websites and web apps.
You may be familiar with anti-virus software and how it protects your computer from online threats and quarantines infected files on your local machine. However, such software doesn’t necessarily protect you from adware, spyware, and other types of malware. For complete security, choose an anti-malware program that wards off as many known types of malicious software as possible.
Also, you may not want to rely solely on your computer’s operating system anti-virus features, such as Windows Defender. Definitely keep your system’s security programs on and active, but consider additional protection against other types of malware. As for Apple advocates, you’re not in the clear. Gone are the days when MacBooks and iPhones are free from wide-scale hacks. These days, Apple products are just as vulnerable and, therefore, need just as much protection.
6. Update Systems and Software
Put your IT hardhat on and update your operating system and software programs regularly. If you find tech maintenance to be a nuisance, turn on auto-update features so that the little cyber elves visit your devices every night and perform a sweep while you slumber. Make sure your system and programs automatically check for updates at least weekly, and register your products to receive notifications about potential hacks or vulnerabilities.
7. Leave Spam Alone
Symantec’s latest intelligence report states that the overall spam rate remains above 50 percent, which means more than half of all emails received are spam. Hackers and con artists love to inundate your inbox with links to their beloved malware and fake get-rich-quick offers. However, don’t fall for their tricks. Let your spam filter help and empty your spam folder regularly. Resist the urge to click on spam emails, as clicks can validate your email address in a hacker’s system. Follow these basic rules of thumb:
- Don’t open emails from unknown senders.
- Don’t open emails from familiar senders if the subject or preview seem suspicious.
- Don’t download images or attachments from suspicious emails.
- Don’t click on links in suspicious emails.
Trust your instincts – if an email seems suspicious, don’t open it. If you recognize the senders, contact them in separate emails or text to confirm whether the messages are legit. Senders usually aren’t aware when their accounts are hacked, so they may be grateful to receive notification from you.
8. Encrypt Your Email
Have you ever noticed that little lock symbol in the header section of emails you receive? That symbol tells you whether the sender’s email system sends encrypted messages.
Encryption is a way to protect information transmitted over the internet. It encodes data into a different set of characters, then reconverts it back to regular text so you can read it on your screen. Emails, credit card numbers, passwords, and just about any other form of data can be encrypted.
Email providers like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, iCloud Mail, and Microsoft Outlook offer at least some encryption service, but additional protection may be necessary depending on your line of work. Programs like ProtonMail, Tutanota, and MsgSafe.io are popular among professionals who want extra security.
Regardless the program you choose, be wary of senders who deliver unsecured messages to your inbox. If they don’t go to spam and look legit, consider replying in a separate thread to inform the senders that their service isn’t sending encrypted emails. Likewise, if you see a red lock symbol or notification that an email you’re sending isn’t encrypted, remove any confidential or sensitive information and contact your email service provider.
9. Avoid Fake Job Offers
Unfortunately, telecommuting opens doors for creative cons to steal your information through job postings. Luckily, Virtual Vocations hand picks remote job openings and pre-filters false opportunities. However, there’s always a risk when sending personal information over the internet. Learn how to spot fake work-at-home jobs during your online search, and thoroughly research companies before applying. Follow the age-old adage: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Here are some additional tips when applying:
- Don’t include your home address on your resumé.
- Don’t submit your social security number or bank account information when applying.
- Verify company websites before submitting your applications.
- Research company reviews and employee feedback.
- Look up company profiles on LinkedIn and assess whether followers and connections seem valid.
Don’t let fake postings scare you away from an exciting job search. Just be cautious and use your best judgment before offering personal information.
10. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network (VPN) is a private connection between your computer and your employer’s network. It allows you to access files, software, email, and systems from a remote location. You still use your local internet service provider, but you warp through a wormhole that hackers have a hard time tracing.
You should use a VPN if you transfer information to and from your employer’s network frequently, or if you rely on a company server to store and back up your files. However, if your team relies on cloud platforms like Google Drive or Dropbox, a VPN may not be necessary. Check with your company’s IT policies and whether you need to install a VPN.
11. Travel Smart
One of the best perks of telecommuting is that you can take your work with you wherever you go. Whether you visit the neighborhood coffee shop, enjoy a cross-country road trip, or venture around the globe, all you need is a laptop and internet connection to keep the money rolling in. However, traveling presents a slew of security risks that you must prepare for in advance.
Use these tips to help prevent major cybersecurity issues while traveling:
- Disable automatic Wi-Fi connections.
- Only use secured, private Wi-Fi whenever possible.
- Use your cellular network when secure Wi-Fi connections are unavailable.
- Store laptops and mobile devices in physically secure locations.
- Protect room keys, locker keys, and magnetic keycards where you store your equipment.
- Don’t share USBs with other people.
- Don’t use public computers to transmit sensitive or confidential information. If you do use public computers, don’t save passwords or other personal information and delete your internet history and temporary files from all folders, including the recycle bin.
- Back up your data to a cloud server to recover information anywhere.
There are plenty more precautions to take. All in all, use common sense and protect your equipment and information as you would your wallet and passport.
Stay Safe in the Remote Workspace
Telecommuting has more advantages than risks, but since you heavily rely on the internet, you need to educate and protect yourself from known cybersecurity threats. Become a master of password management and keep your software up to date. Monitor your anti-malware programs and empty your spam box regularly. Send encrypted emails, watch out for fake online jobs, and use a VPN for added protection. Travel like a true tech pro and prepare for cybersecurity risks in advance so that you can trek safely on the ground and keep your work in the cloud.
Photo Credits: 1. iStock.com/ChakisAtelier; 2. iStock.com/Andrey Suslov
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