How to Stay Secure Online While Working from Home

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

While working from home, video chatting, messaging, ordering shopping and pretty much living our entire lives online, it’s more important than ever to protect our devices. At times like these, there will be opportunists eager to target users around the world. So, how do you secure your personal information even more from prying eyes and hackers?

Turn on Two Step Authentication Wherever Possible

As we move ever closer towards doing everything in our lives online, it’s even more crucial to stay protected and setting up two-step verification is a good place to start. Many online companies and banking entities now offer a two-step authentication process – an extra layer of security which ensures only you can access your accounts.

This process can include typing in your password, then obtaining a follow-up phone call, SMS, numerical passcode, PIN or answering a few security questions to verify who you are. Most websites will prompt you to set it up, or you can access individual accounts and do it yourself.

Password Protect Your Personal Files

If you are working on personal, business or creative projects from home, you don’t want cyber intruders accessing your private data and files. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to encrypt or password protect sensitive files easily on Windows and Mac computers. Zip file programmes such as WinRAR are easy and uncomplicated to use and can password protect and compress files into zip folders in a few steps. They offer a free trial and their software can be downloaded for most operating systems.

Alternatively, you can choose to encrypt your files on Windows OS by using this simple 4-step process.

Click Properties


Encrypt Contents to Secure Data


To Password Protect a file on an Apple Mac computer follow these steps:

Click Command + Shift + A to open Applications

Open Utilities, Desk Utility and Click File

Select New Image > Image from Folder and click on the folder you wish to protect.

Open, Image Format and Select Read/Write as your option.

Click Encrypt 128-bit and Enter a Password and Verify again.

Select Choose, Name the Disk and Save and you’re done.

It may seem like a lengthy process in the first instance but it’s worth it for your own peace of mind and will protect your personal data and work projects from hackers.

Don’t Remote Desktop Share Unless Absolutely Necessary

Many employees will be using their own computers for remote working; therefore, it may be necessary during the set-up process to allow your company’s IT professional access to your personal computer and network.

By allowing someone control of your system you are essentially giving them access to your entire computer and all of its files, photos, data etc. They can control it from any location in the world, as you would yourself, therefore, only grant access to someone you know and trust, and only if absolutely necessary. If you are not comfortable with the process, you can protect files by encrypting or password protecting them as above, or even remove them onto an external hard drive or SSD while you work from home.

Cover Webcams and Block Microphones

Most of us have heard of people sitting at their computers happily working away, when a real time photograph of them appears on the screen. A cybercriminal has accessed their webcam, locked their computer and wants paid vast sums of money to unlock it again. The good news is, in addition to disallowing apps, operating systems and software programmes from accessing to your cameras, you can also purchase webcam sliders which cover them when not in use, or you can use a thick piece of tape to cover them.

Microphones can also be easily blocked on smart phones, tablets and laptops by downloading a Mic Blocker app which checks intermittently if someone is trying to access your network. It’s also possible to go into ‘Settings’ and deny apps permission to access your microphone. 

Don’t Click on Unsolicited Emails

If you didn’t ask to receive an email, or don’t know the sender, it’s unsolicited. If someone is attempting to gain your attention in this way, it means they want something from you. Whether they want you to buy something, watch their uploaded video or check out their Instagram feed, you should never click on these emails or links without confirming the source first.

Most ‘spam’ emails will head straight into your junk mail folder, but in some cases, they slip through the net, especially if they are pretending to be from someone you deal with on a regular basis like a bank or online shopping account. Even so, there are ways to check.

Most scammers misspell the company name or add a letter to the email address, so always check first if the email is legitimate. If you are unsure, search online and see if anyone else has received phishing emails with the same content. Then copy (don’t click on) the email and send it to the genuine company website it claims to be from and ask them to investigate the source. Most companies will be helpful as it damages their reputation too if someone is using their legitimate business to target individuals.

Keep OS and Anti-Virus Software Up to Date

When your computer is connected to the internet, it becomes vulnerable to viruses and malware from all over the world. That’s why, when remote working, it’s important to keep anti-virus software up to date. Even if your laptop was purchased with software already installed, these threats can change every day.

It’s a good idea to turn on automatic updates so your Mac, PC and other devices can download latest versions of the software, so you remain protected. You should aim to do a full system scan once a week to check for vulnerabilities and security holes. If you wish to enhance built-in anti-virus software with a dedicated security programme there are free versions on the market but purchasing an annual license will give you more advanced protection and greater features.

Turn off Any Unnecessary, Invasive Processes

Although syncing devices together is a convenient way to access all your data in one place, it’s also a cyber criminals dream. It just takes one malicious app on a smartphone, an infected file or piece of software and they don’t just gain access to one device, they are into every single linked device on your network. If you can manage without it, don’t sync devices together, instead go old school - prepare in advance and carry a USB flash drive or lock a protected file with any data you may need access to during the day.

When you download a new app, always turn off any permissions you think they don’t need to function. After all, if a flashlight app is asking for access to your location, camera, microphone and contacts, you need to ask yourself why, where that data is going and for what purpose. It’s easy to go into ‘Settings’ on your devices or into ‘App Processes’ on Android smartphones to tweak this until you’re happy.

If you want to keep a closer eye on your devices, security apps such as CyberTor and Incognito are good to have in your sights. Not only do they tell you if companies are hiding monitoring software on your devices, they also regularly scan, check for intruders and inform you of security breaches around the world.

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