This week, National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) focuses on accountability and responsibility behind securing your devices at home and work. 

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been quite a different year regarding how and where we work. Companies quickly shifted to remote working, which many could see as a win – you don’t have to do your hair, you can sleep in a bit more, and work from the comfort of your couch. On the other hand, it poses a higher risk to organizations; employees become more reliant on email, they can use personal devices to carry out their work, and some may be connecting to public Wi-Fi without using a VPN (scary stuff, we know). In this blog, we will discuss the impact of remote working and go over solutions for securing our work-related and home devices. 

Risks of working from home

In a recent study, researchers found that 46% of IT decision-makers are concerned that employees’ unsafe data practices could compromise their company’s security. Additionally, 85% of IT leaders believe their teams will be under more pressure in a hybrid working structure (remote and office work). 

Transforming a business is always a security risk; it takes planning, practice, and closely managed processes. COVID-19 did not afford companies this luxury during 2020. The scale and speed of changes this year to move to a mostly remote working environment were unprecedented, and threat actors had no shame in using the COVID-19 pandemic as a lure in phishing attacks to spread malware and steal sensitive data.  

Although the risks associated with working at home may seem intimidating, some actions can ensure that devices are secure at home and at work. 

Securing devices at home and work

While working from home can be great, there are things to consider when working and potentially handling sensitive information. From securing your office to using complex and unique passwords, many things can be done to protect you and your organization’s data. 

Separate work and personal devices.

While working from home, some lines can become blurred. We work from our desk at home, we pay our bills from home, and we surf the internet and social media sites at home. Switching devices between work and personal activities can be a pain; you can pay this one bill or check this one thing, right? Sure, you can, but we recommend using your personal computer or smartphone for non-work related tasks. It may feel like a pain to pull out your laptop or smartphone to complete something small. Still, it can go a long way in protecting your organization’s data, and reserving specific tasks for specific devices limits the amount of sensitive data that could be exposed if your accounts or devices become compromised. 

Secure your home network

While working in the office, the internet connection is typically secure. However, when working remotely, we are responsible for our Wi-Fi routers and internet connections. Most work-from-home employees probably connect to their corporate network via a virtual private network (VPN), but it is still important to secure your home router. While it can be convenient to stick to the default settings when a router is installed, it can pose a considerable security risk. Users should immediately change the password used to connect to the internet and the password used to access the router settings. 

Keep devices up-to-date

Users should ensure that routers are consistently receiving firmware updates. Many newer routers update automatically, but it is good to occasionally check the settings to ensure the router receives all necessary updates. Additionally, ensuring that your devices, both work and personal, are kept up-to-date is essential as well. As with routers, many automatically update, but it is crucial to check to ensure that the updates are occurring as they should. 

Physical security still matters

Although it may seem like it’s not as crucial while working from home, physical security is still essential for your home office or work area. If you’re working with confidential information, it is vital to ensure that housemates and family do not access that information. Locking your computer screen or making sure that your laptop is not left unattended ensures that unauthorized individuals do not have access to your organization’s data. A helpful setting is automatic locking; we all forget from time to time to lock our screen when we step away, which can occur more frequently at home. Setting your laptop to automatically lock after a reasonable amount of time, such as three to five minutes, can help make sure that your computer is never unlocked if you step away for a few minutes. 

Use strong and unique passwords

All of the actions discussed above are great and helpful, but security is only as great as its weakest link. If you aren’t using strong and unique passwords for your devices and programs, the actions above won’t be successful in stopping a determined threat actor. The most common password used, even in 2020, is “123456789” – guess what a threat actor’s first guess is going to be. You got it, a simple and uncreative password that has repeatedly proven to be one of the most common passwords used. Users should use strong and unique passwords for their programs and devices. If your company provides a password manager, ensure you’re using it to help keep track of all the different passwords. This and the above actions can help ensure that you are doing your part to protect your organization’s data. So, what does a good password include? Here are a few recommendations:

  • Passwords should contain at least sixteen characters
  • Use letters, numbers, and special characters
  • Do not use common words, family members names, pet names, previous schools, or anything else that people can guess about you
Lock Down Your Login
(Source: National Cyber Security Alliance)

Organizations can help, too

Along with employees taking actions to help protect the network and data, organizations can do some simple things to help as well. One of the crucial things an organization can do is give employees adequate and frequent security awareness training. When and how to use operational security on their accounts, when it is appropriate and acceptable to install software or programs on their work devices, how to recognize phishing emails, and when to be wary of email attachments and links. Training in these security practices can help employees avoid falling victim to an attack. 

As employees should use strong and unique passwords for their programs and devices, organizations can enforce strong passwords. Setting password requirements that prevent easily guessed passwords from being used will prevent employees from setting passwords that would be easy for threat actors to guess. Some recommendations for password requirements are:

  • Password length of at least sixteen characters
  • Passwords that include numbers, letters, and special characters 
  • Requiring passwords to be changed regularly and not allowing passwords to be reused 

With more people working remotely, our businesses are more interconnected than ever. This scenario brings a much broader threat landscape for attackers to target and a new set of vulnerabilities. It’s more imperative than ever that individuals do their part in ensuring their organizations’ data is secure when in a home environment. The actions discussed in this blog can get us one step closer to shutting out threat actors. 

For tips on securing internet-connected devices in healthcare, keep an eye out for our next piece in our four-part National Cybersecurity Awareness Month blog series!