Best Practices and Cyber-Security Tips for Working Remotely
Amid the global pandemic of COVID-19, working remotely is now a norm. However, it comes with various security challenges. There are incredibly dangerous tools and techniques that malicious attackers use in order to cause harm to you.
Dangers of cyber attacks include damage done to your device, breaches of privacy, irreversible loss of data, and oftentimes even stolen money. Luckily, there are many ways to protect yourself against all of these threats by incorporating a couple of changes in your online routine.
This article focuses on bringing you useful, easy-to-implement security tips to combat malicious attacks when working remotely. Whether you’re working from home or decided to head out to a cafe, these tips will keep you protected from attacks even outside your company’s security perimeter.
Create more complex passwords
With technology advancing at a quick rate, hackers are developing and distributing more dangerous tools to crack online accounts. This is bad news for all online and remote workers, as one of your accounts getting compromised may lead to more and more harm — that is if you use weak, non-unique passwords.
Imagine that you signed up for a website years ago, and that website experiences a data breach. The attackers may leak a huge list of user email and password combinations, and yours is listed loud and clear for the world to see. Attackers take advantage of this, trying to use your old login credentials on various websites until they succeed to crack a valuable account.
(Example of a weak password which is easy to guess or brute-force)
If you’re using the same password on multiple websites, this tip is for you. We highly recommend changing all of your passwords to unique, hard-to-guess combinations. According to Avast, a leading cybersecurity brand, a good password is over 16 characters and consists of random alphanumeric sequences, complete with special symbols.
(Example of a strong password generated by the Avast Random Password Generator)
You might be asking the obvious question here: how on Earth can I remember a password like that? The answer is simple. You don’t have to.
There are dozens of highly secure password manager applications available for you to use that integrate with your web browser, sync on mobile phones, and allow you to store and use passwords in a vault. Our recommendations to get the job done are Bitwarden, Dashlane, and Avast Passwords.
Set up a good antivirus
While you can generally avoid sketchy websites thanks to the built-in protection of most internet browsers, some threats are harder to detect than others. Imagine that you desperately need to download a file, so you temporarily allow it to get through the protection of your browser, but it turns out, the file was infected with malware. Now, you have a problem with your computer and little to no way to deal with it unless you contact IT support.
This is when antivirus software comes into the picture. When you utilize an antivirus, the chances of a malicious file damaging your computer are very low. Even if it gets on it and attempts to start an attack, good antiviruses are able to detect this activity and suspend it immediately.
Most antivirus software is also able to scan your computer and find hidden malware that has been on your device before you even installed the antivirus. Frequent scans ensure that no unwanted applications or pesky viruses are slowing down your device, making it easier and more efficient to work remotely.
Our top picks for antivirus software are Malwarebytes, ESET NOD32, and Avast Antivirus. Most antivirus software offers a basic but free trial version and paid premium services for users who want to take their security to the next level.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPN is the acronym for Virtual Private Network. In short, VPN is a virtual cable that connects your computer to a non-local network and provides a secure connection hidden from outsiders. After the VPN server is able to verify your identity, it establishes a connection and gives you a new IP address complete with data encryption to protect your privacy.
The many benefits of using a VPN include accessing websites that are blocked in your country or region, increased privacy from your ISP, hackers, or sites that collect data, as well as better connections to servers by using private, direct routes.
VPN has its own set of vulnerabilities, as attackers take advantage of specific weak points and exploit encryption protocols. However, you're still more safe browsing the internet with a VPN than using your standard internet connection. Using a VPN means that your attackers need more time and resources to track you down, which makes it less likely that they target you.
Our recommendations for a VPN include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost. All of these services are quick, easy to use, and affordable for those who want to enjoy the many security and speed benefits VPNs can provide.
Keep your things up to date
Speaking of exploiting security holes in the aforementioned VPN protocols, attackers like to take advantage of software or operating systems that haven’t been updated to the latest version. Hackers and other cybercriminals are always on the lookout for any opening to get through and harm your device, meaning that keeping your software and system updated is essential. Besides the OS, you need to ensure that you're using the safest internet browsers.
For instance, there was an ongoing issue with Microsoft Office files (Word’s .docx or Excel’s .xls) carrying malicious codes and scripts — referred to as a payload infection, — and infecting computers when opened with Office software. This exploited a security hole in Microsoft’s software, which led to thousands of infections.
In a situation like that, the company will most likely issue an immediate fix and urge you to upgrade your software. Whenever you see that an update is available for an application you frequently run on your device, we recommend installing it right away.
Always back up your files and projects when working remotely. Unexpected occurrences such as a power outage or serious malware infections like ransomware can cause devastating loss of data, which can only be restored if you have a backup somewhere else.
We highly recommend using cloud-based storage services which allow you to upload your files and keep them in a secure location that isn’t affected by what happens to your computer at home. Some services that are able to provide private, protected storage include OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive.
Most storage providers will allow you to use the service for free until you fill up a certain amount of space, where you need to pay to upgrade to bigger storage. Luckily, our top recommendations are all affordable and fast, making it easy to store and backup your files on a daily basis.