I’m old enough to remember hearing the news reports of parents trampling each other before Christmas in order to grab a Cabbage Patch Doll or (years later) fights breaking out to purchase a Sesame Street Tickle Me Elmo or Furby doll (the furry toy in the late 90’s that could talk and blink its eyes). When it comes to the latest crazes, stories like this happen each year when people experience scarcity and demand surpasses supply, especially around the holiday season.
Fast forward to today, and neither the media coverage nor humankind’s response to demand over supply has changed much. With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 epidemic, we’re seeing consumers scrambling to their local big box and grocery stores, to bruise their way passed fellow neighbors in order to hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other items deemed “necessities”. While the season and the goods may vary, our response to shortage is (sadly) the same.
Given the Corona crisis and the social distancing directive, schools have closed their physical doors nationwide and are moving to online assignments. Most churches and businesses have shifted day-to-day operations to a work-from-home model. And so, with most of us working at home now, and remotely connecting back into our critical networks at work, it begs the question– have we implemented the necessary safe computing practices at home?
Below are some essential safe computing practice tips and recommendations while working or studying from home.
- Implement complex passwords. Passwords must be long (over 15 characters) and complex (mixing upper- and lower-case letters with numbers and special characters). Furthermore, it’s foolish to repeatedly use the same password for multiple login accounts. Cybercriminals are scavengers (and are not lazy, like us) and they will use these “dummy” passwords to login to multiple accounts that we possess. Using the same common password makes it easy for hackers.
Attackers are focused, now more than ever, on targeting the “lowest hanging fruit” (i.e. Home computers). In other words, they are preying on vulnerable remote systems that are likely to have less-secure passwords, and they will use those to compromise or obtain the (usually more secure) business network login credentials. Because of the current U.S. work-from-home situation, if we have weak computer security and passwords at home, we are opening the door to security breaches on our (remotely accessed) professional networks.
- Maintain regular software updates. Keeping up to date with your installed software patches is critically important. New Operating systems and 3rd party vulnerabilities are announced daily. Hackers capitalize on these weaknesses (and our nonchalance in applying them) to exploit systems to their full hacking benefit. Turning on automatic updates for your Windows OS or MAC OS systems is essential. This also goes for web browsers (i.e. Chrome, Firefox) and browser plug-ins.
- Lock or shut down your devise when not in use. This is an age-old, sound and safe computing practice, and it stands true. The current (at-home work and school) climate opens the door to heightened awareness on this level because we have children and spouses (and their friends and family) sharing internet access and devices at home. The risk of data loss (even accidentally with so many people possibly using the same machine/device) or data theft increases significantly. On a similar security parallel, another high priority should be to keep proper track of flash drives and external hard drives that are storing your personal and professional data.
- Common sense still wins out: Don’t open attachments from unknown sources or click on links embedded in emails or on social media sites. Also: Be skeptical of phone calls. Security professionals (including myself) have been harping on this point since the days of the LoveLetter worm back in 2000 for good reason. Despite many of the criminal advancements that attackers/hackers use to proliferate malware, the use of spam email is still the #1 source for malware infections including spying software. (People keep clicking on them to open them!). These email scams are highly socially engineered to pique your curiosity, and they are no longer easily identified by poor grammar or spelling. The reality in staying secure is that extreme caution should be used when opening all emails.
- Install strong antivirus/endpoint security protection. With tens of thousands of new malware and viruses created and released each day, it’s essential to have a reputable antivirus/endpoint security software installed on your system. It’s equally important keep your security software up-to-date with the latest virus definitions. A single malware or ransomware infection can cost organizations millions of dollars to clean-up, and many of these infections originate from outside computers!
- Think! Fully understand and absorb that cybercriminals are after YOU! As organizations are evolving in accordance with health safety precautions and State guidance, so are hackers. They’re clever, they’re smart and they want to harm you financially from both a personal and corporate standpoint. We all must do our part to remain vigilant from online dangers!
While human nature may always struggle against the “me-first” reaction in a scarcity situation, we can come together and grow in some new (Corona-induced) common areas—such as how to most-securely work from home.
If this is to be our “new normal” for a while, let’s work smarter from home and more safely by implementing complex passwords, maintaining regular software updates, locking our devices when not in use, not opening attachments from unknown sources, and installing strong antivirus software.
These practices are not difficult, and most of them stem from common sense, which, last time I checked was not a scarcity for Americans. We can establish safe-computing methods at home to protect both in-house and remotely-accessed Networks. We are in this “work from home” situation together as a Nation, and we will come through it together and safely if are prudent and wise about the health of our devices and ourselves!
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