Novel cyberthreats: how to stay safe when working from home

As companies are forced to quickly transition to telecommuting and remote work, the ongoing pandemic is giving rise to new forms of cybercrime. Some experts have labelled this phenomenon Fearware as hackers capitalise on anxieties about the virus and target employees working from less secure home offices.

Hackers have created coronavirus tracking apps that install ransomware, coronavirus attachments that contain malware, and phishing emails claiming to be from the CDC and WHO that steal personal information. Even public health systems aren’t immune to this risk. Hackers recently attacked the US Department of Health and Human Services to test the department’s infrastructure for security exploits.

Just as proper hygiene is key to avoid spreading disease, there are a number of basic online rules to protect yourself and your company from cybersecurity risks. Luckily, there are some easy-to-follow and practical tips on how to secure your home and corporate computer while working remotely. Most people would benefit from using a VPN and a trusted antivirus at minimum, but some of our tips are dependent on whether you’re using a company device, a personal device, or a shared computer.  

Working on a company device?

· Use your company’s VPN or invest in a personal VPN provider in order to secure your connection. While a VPN won’t protect against all attacks, it is a helpful first defence against opportunistic hackers.  

· Use two-factor authentication whenever possible, especially if you have access to corporate resources. Without two-factor authentication, it’s hard to track users and identify if a login is real.

· Be extra careful with clicking on email attachments and messages with links, especially if they appear to be from a health agency. All the uncertainty around coronavirus has given digital thieves the perfect chance to perform phishing attacks by using fake CDC or WHO emails that offer alerts on the Covid-19 updates in your region. It’s better to avoid opening such messages, clicking on similar ads, and installing tracking apps. You can easily get all the updates on official websites, without any personal data required.

Working on your own device?

· Make sure you are running the last updates of your operating system and software. These updates are critical for both macOS and Windows computers as they often provide security patches for known exploits.

· Use a trusted antivirus software like BitDefender, Avast or a bundled security suite such as Mackeeper (which includes features such as antivirus, VPN, and antitracking) installed directly from the official website.

· Turn on data encryption on your computer to prevent unauthorized access to your information. Use FileVault on Mac and BitLocker on Windows.

Sharing a family computer?

· Explain cybersecurity basics to your kids. In the disease control world, kids are sometimes called “super-spreaders” because they share lots of things, good and bad. The same can be true for online viruses. Remind your kids not to ignore messages from strangers, avoid opening unfamiliar links or attachments from friends, and to never download apps without your permission first.  

· Use different accounts on your home computer for every member of your family. Often, all members use one account with admin rights, with the same access to everything and the same saved passwords. Create different accounts without admin rights for each member of your family.

· If you do suspect you’ve been targeted with a virus or have been hacked, run a scan with your local antivirus. Most antiviruses allow you to restart the computer in a safe mode and check it. If you still have trouble, contact your computer’s technical support for help or reach out to our team.

Along with social distancing, practice virtual distancing: don’t click on any links, attachments, or emails from unknown senders and be cautious with things sent from friends. And as we all relearn the importance of good old-fashioned handwashing, it’s a good time to remember that antivirus software is the best way to protect ourselves online.

Alun Baker is CEO at Clario

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