With shelter-in-place and social distancing orders in place across the world, many of us are working (and socializing!) from home and online more than ever.
For some of us, it may be the first time that we’ve had to set up an office or a family Zoom call. Here’s the good news: Even though the world has changed very quickly over the past month, lots of people have been working from home for years and have already established how to do so safely. For those who are new to the scene, or those just looking to brush up on their online security, we’ve compiled some tips below:
This past month Zoom has made headlines outside of its normal business use as, first, a way to connect friends and family across the country. Those headlines were quickly replaced by stories about security concerns with the video conferencing software as schools and others opted out of the software after pornographic, racist, and other unpleasant imagery appeared unbidden in a phenomenon known as “zoombombing.” The company is now scrambling to address these privacy gaps as fast as possible, but it’s a good reminder that even the most benign applications can be exploited by ne’er-do-wells.
In the wake of Zoom’s security issues, people have opted to use a number of other services on the market – FaceTime, Instagram, House Party – there are a lot of options. If you choose to use any of them to stay connected, there are some basic steps you can take to stay secure:
- Use passwords / keep meetings private: Many video conferencing options allow you to use a password to make sure that your meeting is only accessible to those that you want to be there. Take advantage of this extra step to make sure that’s the case. And avoid displaying meeting details “publicly” on social media – you never know who will see it.
- Make sure your software is up-to-date: This is a basic rule-of-thumb for all software, but it’s worth reiterating here. Take, for example, the promised fixes from Zoom – those come in the form of updates, so if you’re running old software, you’re liable to run into old problems. It may be a pain to wait a few minutes to get the updates, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
- Manage your “guests”: It’s true in real life, and it’s true here. Even though we’re all feeling a bit isolated these days, no one likes an unwanted guest. Take advantage of tools that let you control who is in the meeting or hangout. Use waiting rooms, which allow an extra layer of protection that adds a step before anyone with a link can barge in. And consider being a strict host in general – limiting a party to one host means there are tools to mute participants and eject anyone who is there to cause trouble.
We’ve addressed this problem before, and will continue to do so, because tricking people into giving up their valuable personal information continues to be one of the largest issues when it comes to online security. And, not only has the pandemic brought out Covid-19-specific scams, the increase of people who are online and the increased frequency of online life has really brought the scum out of the woodwork. For example, now would-be phishers are using fake links to meetings and hangouts that direct to sites designed to steal your information. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission reports that scammers have targeted promised stimulus checks from the federal government. They stress that, aside from filing taxes, there are no extra steps that need to be taken – anyone that contacts you to say otherwise, or to say that they can get you your check early should be ignored, and no one should give out personal information anywhere but irs.gov/coronavirus.
Phishing, of course, is a scam in which fake emails and fake websites are designed with the sole intent of getting your password, financial information or other personal data. Here’s our article on how to protect yourself against phishing, and we’ve also written about how to make sure a website is run by a legitmate business. Reading both of these should put you in the right frame of mind to make sure your data stays yours.
Secure Your Information
If you have a job that involves moving data around between people, you might want to think about using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which provides an additional layer of security. There are a number of different VPN providers, but all should allow you to hide IP addresses and encrypt data transfers. Most larger organizations already have VPNs in place, but adapting to work-from-home connected offices might require additional licenses, if there are limits on the number of remote users allowed, and making sure that networking software is patched and up-to-date is especially important these days.
Another way to secure your information is through digital signatures for email and documents. S/MIME certificates – available from SSL.com – are an easy way to secure email, ensuring they are really from you and allowing you to encrypt them while in transit. Document signing certificates are a great way to remotely ensure integrity and authenticity of documents. They let recipients (like your customers and colleagues) know that the documents come from the source that they claim to come from and that they haven’t been altered along the way. In addition, businesses can provide employees with client authentication certificates which function as an additional point of authentication for signing in to applications.
Update your Software / Passwords / Virus Protections
A lot of the work of staying secure online is totally in your hands. As we’ve stressed above, making sure that your applications and anti-virus software are up-to-date is a simple and effective way to make sure that all of the programs you use have the latest security patches and bug fixes. It’s also important to periodically update your passwords, to make sure that an account breach doesn’t derail you at an inopportune time. With physical businesses closed and myriad complications from the current state of affairs, it’s a bad time to be on the phone with your bank, or anyone else that manages software critical to your home and work life.
Remember, making the shift to working from home is a valuable contribution to making more people in your community safe from coronavirus. Taking extra measures to make sure that you are working safe as well is worth it.