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Keeping Your Computer Safe while Working from Home

Written by | Updated October 8, 2020
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Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Learn how you can create and keep track of strong passwords with a password manager and keep watch on your personal information online with identity theft monitoring services.

While most offices have robust security to protect employees and equipment from internet threats, you don’t have these advantages when you work from home.

If you work for a large company, your employer might have a plan in place to protect your gear. But if you do freelance work, you’re on your own to figure out how to protect your work from internet threats.

In either case, here are a few steps you can take to slash lost WFH time due to internet security mishaps.

1. Follow company guidelines

If you’re a full-time employee, the odds are that your company has specific guidelines for telework. You can learn about these by asking your direct supervisor, human resources, and IT support.

You’ll see guidelines like the following:

  • Use only employer-issued equipment.
  • Update your passwords regularly, including the one that unlocks your computer.
  • Keep software and operating systems up to date, especially security updates.
  • Log in to the company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) before starting each workday.
  • Don’t copy sensitive files from your work laptop to other devices.
  • Back up your files using the company’s cloud storage service of choice.

Only a select few companies have “bring your own device” policies (BYOD) for full-time staffers, where you log in from your personal laptop, but you may need to install company-approved software. BYOD is far more common for freelancers.

Too many passwords

It’s easy to get password fatigue if you use a lot of different apps and services. Rather than taking the easy route and using the same password everywhere, get a password manager. It can help you create strong passwords and lock them behind an ultra-strong master password and multi-factor authentication. Then you have to remember only your master password, freeing your creativity for less tedious tasks. Read our full review of password managers to learn more.

2. Add your own rules

You can avoid unintentional security breaches by setting some basic rules for yourself, your family, and anyone else in the house:

  • Your work computer is only for your work. No one else should use it, even when you’re not working.
  • Set aside a private space in your home (preferably a room where you can close the door) where you can view and work with sensitive information. Kindly ask the crew to respect this privacy.
  • Lock your work computer with a strong password when not in use.
  • If possible, lock your laptop in a drawer, closet, or cabinet when not in use. This helps prevent unauthorized access and theft.

3. Secure your network

A secure Wi-Fi network is the first line of defense against hackers. Replace the default password that came with your router with a strong, unique password.

After you change your password, give your network a unique name that doesn’t include any personal information.

It’s tempting to label your network as “Smith Home” or “123 Address Lane,” but it’s always better to go with something your family would recognize, but a stranger wouldn’t, like a dumb inside joke or random pop culture reference.

Don’t forget to secure your home Wi-Fi network by turning on WEP, WPA, or WPA2 encryption. Most routers encrypt by default, but you can also adjust this in your router’s settings.

And pay attention to the devices connecting to your networks, says SafeWise advisory group member and IT security expert Pete Canavan.

“Your entire home network needs to be secured since every device on it is a potential security threat,” Canavan says. “This means locking down your kids’ phones, tablets, and computers, as well as any printers, routers, and modems. Don’t forget smart TVs, video doorbells, cameras, and other network-attached devices.”

Keep your data private, even in public

A VPN is kind of like social distancing; it helps keep your data away from prying advertisers and nasty malware. If you’re working on a public Wi-Fi network at a coffee shop, it’s a good idea to use a VPN to protect your data. Using a VPN can bolster the security on your home network too. Read our VPN review to learn more about the best VPNs.

4. Update often

It’s easy to overlook updates when your computer still works, but it deprives it of key fixes to close security gaps. Turning on automatic updates is the easiest way to keep up to date.

For manual updates, a good rule of thumb is to check for changes at the start of the workweek. Don’t forget to check for updates on apps, security features, and your operating system.

You can also check monthly for firmware updates on your router and other Wi-Fi devices in your home.

One note of caution about updating your operating system if you’re using a company-issued laptop: check with your employer’s IT department first. When you upgrade from one version of an operating system to another, sometimes apps stop working, and so do you.

Disinfect Your Data

Even if you avoid sketchy websites and email scams, there’s always a possibility a virus can infect your work computer. So you should always use antivirus software to watch for viruses and other malware. If you accidentally download a virus-ridden file, the antivirus program can quarantine and delete it safely.

Written by John Carlsen

John is a technology journalist with over seven years of experience researching, testing, and reviewing the latest tech. Before joining SafeWise in 2020, John was an editor for Top Ten Reviews specializing in home security and the smart home. Learn more

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