How to work securely while you're away from the office

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Increased flexibilitiy is one of the biggest trends changing the workplace. More and more jobs can be time shifted, or done remotely. Companies ranging from Mirvac to Envato are changing processes and culture, allowing their employees to work wherever and whenever.

But no matter how or where you work, security is key. Cybercrime is on the rise, and businesses, especially small businesses, are bearing the brunt. Here are a few steps to make sure your work is secure while you’re away from the office.

1. Mind your hardware

The first and most important step is to secure all your hardware.

Encrypt everything from your computer’s hard drive to any thumb drives or external hard drives you might use. Luckily, this has gotten easier over the years. If you have a Mac then you already have encryption built in — you just need to turn it on. Certain versions of Windows also ship with encryption, you just need to dive into the settings. Even better, you can use these inbuilt programs to encrypt things like thumb drives and external hard drives.

Finally, always be on alert. Don’t let your devices out of your sight. Don’t use a thumb drive or charger that you’ve found and don’t plug your devices into anything you don’t trust. Thumb drives can contain any number of things, and hackers have made fake chargers in the past — they were able to hack a smartphone in less than a minute.

2. Practice computer good hygiene

It may be annoying to constantly update your software and apps, but it’s about more than having the latest features. There are security reasons behind it as well. Software companies are constantly finding and fixing bugs or glitches in their products, and if you don’t update to the latest version, you may be leaving yourself open to being exploited.

The 19 million users who encountered the Stuxnet virus in 2014 could have saved themselves the trouble by updating Windows, points out security firm Kaspersky. Microsoft had patched this vulnerability more than four years earlier.

Here’s a handy guide on updating software across platforms.

3. Stay away from public WiFi

Photo: Shutterstock.

When you’re working away from the office it can be tempting to connect to a public WiFi network – at a coffeeshop or public library for example. While this may be convenient, the fact that they are open and attract a large amount of users makes it a sweet target for hackers.

Snooping, compromised devices and even a hijacked hotspot are all dangers in using public WiFi. A lot of what you do over a public WiFi is visible – websites you visit, what you type into unencrypted websites or forms, even messages you send.

If you must use public WiFi, there are a couple of things you can do to make yourself safer – turn off sharing in system preferences, enable your firewall, and use a VPN to connect to the internet and your office.

4. Create lots of strong passwords

There’s really no excuse for having a weak password. Upgrading your password to something a computer wouldn’t guess in seconds is one of the easiest things to do on this list.

There are a few guides on creating strong passwords that you can follow. Create a different password for everything – websites and services are hacked all too frequently nowadays, and passwords are often stolen along the way. If you can’t remember all your passwords, look into a password manager to save them all.

5. Don’t use a public terminal

Public terminals — the computers you find in libraries and airports, are even more icky than public terminals themselves. While it’s only possible to view unencrypted traffic over a public network, a public terminal could have keyloggers and the like installed. All ready to steal your login credentials.

Nevertheless, if you must, there are things you can do to be marginally safer on a public terminal. Enable private browsing so the browser doesn’t store cookies or your login details. Don’t leave the computer unattended, or allow someone to stand behind you. And practice obfuscation when you are entering in your details – instead of typing your details in directly, alternate between screens and copy and paste letters from elsewhere rather than typing them in.

Above all, make sure you log out of everything when you’re done. Hackers need zero technical skills if you’ve left yourself logged in on a public computer.

If you’re feeling extra technical, consider creating a bootable Linux USB stick or buying a Google Chromebit. These devices will allow you to use the screens, keyboards and mice from a public computer, while never actually using the computer itself.

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