Paul Tarins, RICP®,WMCP®,CSRIC™
2020 saw an unprecedented increase in cyber-attacks and data breaches. According to Cybint, 95% of these cyber-attacks were a result of human error. As millions around the globe continue to work from home, it’s important to remain vigilant when it comes to staying safe online. Doing so can help your company save thousands of dollars in data recovery and release of sensitive information. Here are eight cybersecurity tips that you can start utilizing today.
Tip #1: Encrypt Sensitive Data in Your Emails
If your position at work requires you to send sensitive information regularly, it’s important to encrypt data that’s been attached to your emails.1 In the event that a third-party is able to intercept an email; the encrypted information is much less likely to be compromised.
You can use the following techniques to encrypt sensitive data:
- Symmetric encryption: This technique allows you to encrypt your data using a single key shared between the sender and the receiver. It is also referred to as private-key cryptography and works best for closed systems.
- Asymmetric encryption: This technique utilizes a public and a private key. One key is used for encrypting the message, while the other one is used to decrypt it. The public key is available for everyone, but the private key is only provided to the message’s intended recipient.
- Hybrid encryption: This technique utilizes features from both symmetric and asymmetric encryption. It makes use of unique keys and symmetric encryption to transfer data. The recipient can then use these unique keys to decrypt it.
Tip #2: Use Public Wi-Fi With Caution
While most of us have been keeping our distance, there’s a chance that coffee shops and coworking spaces will be opening up again soon. If you decide to relocate your virtual office to a public space, it’s crucial that you still utilize a secure internet connection. Public Wi-Fi, especially that which is not password-protected, is not secure and can easily be infiltrated.
Some options when using Wi-Fi outside of your home or office include:
- Activating a personal hotspot from your phone or personal computer.
- Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which provides a secure connection to different services (web pages, email, a SQL server, etc.). A VPN can route your data traffic through a virtual encrypted channel. It also hides your IP address and makes it hard for hackers to intercept any information being sent. Make sure you use a paid VPN to ensure your security. Free VPNs collect your browsing information and sell it to third parties.
- Establish encrypted, remote connections to a remote desktop or other individual servers.
Tip #3: Keep Work Data on Your Work Computer
It may not seem like a big deal if you do some work on your personal computer, but in some cases, it can be. If your company has a dedicated IT person or team, it’s likely they’re sending important updates to your computer, regularly running antivirus scans, and blocking malicious sites. In other words, your work computer may have the preventative work and maintenance done on it to help keep you safe and protected online. Unless you’re diligently doing the same while working from home, your personal computer may not be as well protected.
If antivirus scans and software are not running regularly in the background, then what you’re doing online could be intercepted by a third-party. Therefore, accessing work documents or backend sites on your home computer could be putting your company and its network at risk.
Tip #4: Avoid Email Scams and Phishing
In 2019, 88% of organizations fell victim to spear-phishing attempts. These attacks increased during 2020. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remain vigilant of potential scam emails, either by unknown addresses or by scammers posing as people/businesses you know. Once a scammer gains your trust or injects an undetected virus, they may try to steal important information such as passwords, account numbers, or your Social Security number.2
Here are some ways you can avoid phishing scams:
- If a website looks suspicious, exit it right away. Generally, websites with improper formatting and odd URLs are likely to be part of a phishing scam.
- Avoid clicking on any email links sent from an unverified sender. In many cases, these links appear to be from authentic government organizations. You can look up the official URL of such organizations online and see if it matches the one in the email.
- Avoid emails that ask for your personal information and try to create a sense of urgency. For example, if someone is trying to sell you something available for a limited period and urging you to take action, it could easily be a scam.
Tip #5: Don’t Leave Your Laptop Unattended
It may be tempting to do so, but never leave your laptop out in the open when working somewhere other than home. This could include keeping it in the car, on a table, or anywhere unattended. You never know who may be watching and waiting to take your belongings when you walk away.
Even if you have to leave your laptop unattended for a little while, make sure it is locked properly to prevent access. You can also ask someone trustworthy to keep an eye on it in your absence.
Tip #6: Be Selective When Using USB Flash Drives
You may have various thumb drives sitting around the house that you’ve acquired over the years. If you can’t remember where it came from, think twice before using it. Do not continue to use one if you have plugged it into a system for whose safety you can’t vouch for. Doing so could expose your system to viruses or malware, and you could end up losing all your data.
You can also try and save all your information on a cloud server. This allows you to access your data securely from anywhere, and you don’t have to keep a thumb drive on you.
Tip #7: Use a USB Data Blocker When Charging at a Public Station
The time for people to begin working at shared working spaces again is drawing nearer. If you find yourself somewhere where you have access to a public charger, consider using a USB Data Blocker to prevent data exchange and guard against malware.
The USB Data Blocker will create a barrier between the charging station and your mobile device. This will allow your device to continue charging without running the risk of anyone stealing your data or infecting your device.
Tip #8: Keep your Passwords Safe
Here’s another cybersecurity tip that can help you secure your data. Make sure that you keep your computer, email and important documents safe and secure. In order to do so, you may want to consider using a password-saving tool, such as LastPass or Dashlane. These third-party tools allow you to safely store passwords you typically use online, saving you the headache of having to remember multiple passwords across various sites.
In regards to password creation and maintenance, there are a few cybersecurity tips you can follow to help keep your accounts secure. These include:
- Don’t use real words
- Don’t use personal information
- Create long passwords containing a combination of upper-case letters, lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Change passwords regularly
- Don’t type them on public devices3
Wrapping It Up
As states start to reopen in phases, many people will be heading back to work or their favorite virtual office spot. Whether you’re working from home, working in a coffee shop, or visiting a co-working space, continue to utilize these cybersecurity tips to keep yourself and your company’s information safe.
Paul Tarins is an investment adviser representative of and offers investment and advisory services through Portfolio Medics, a registered investment adviser. Nothing contained herein should be construed as a solicitation for investment advisory services. Sovereign Retirement Solutions and Portfolio Medics are not affiliated