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Maintaining Secure Communications

Maintaining Secure Communications

Stickley on Security | July 22, 2020

Whether you’re at work or telecommuting, the way you communicate while online will directly determine your cybersecurity situation.  Often when employees connect to work from home, that connection allows the employee to have direct access to the corporate network.  While this can be extremely convenient for day-to-day business, it also opens up new risks to the organization. This is because your computer can be used by criminals as a conduit, directly connecting a cybercriminal to the corporate network while bypassing the external security that would otherwise block these intruders.  In addition, while out of the office, you may have access to email or remote access through your web browser.  Even these forms of communication can put your organization at risk and lead to the loss of private/confidential information.  In the past few weeks, with the increase of people working from home, there has been a massive uptick in malware attacks on home computers.  This is believed to be due to criminals hoping to gain access to corporate networks via access to the computers of employees working remotely.


To help you reduce your risk of becoming a victim, we have outlined some of the steps you can take to protect yourself and your organization to ensure your computer and ultimately your corporate network remain secure.


Use Strong Passwords


It doesn’t matter if you’re using an app on your phone or logging into a webpage on the Internet. Always ensure that you are using a strong, unique password, regardless of what you’re entering for login credentials.  A strong password will include both upper and lowercase letters, at least one number, and at least one special character such as an exclamation point or asterisk.  To keep the password unique, you need to make sure that you never use the same password for more than one website or application.  The use of a password manager can help you maintain all your unique passwords or you can use the same password for every website, but include a portion of the domain name from that website at the end of your password.  This will allow you to have a unique password and by simply looking at the domain name, you will be able to remember the end of the password which makes it unique.



Turn On Two-Factor Authentication


Most websites offer the option to enable two-factor (2FA) or multifactor authentication (MFA). This additional level of security adds another layer when you log into an account.  Often this added authentication will include sending you a text message with an access code.  By adding this layer, in the event a criminal discovers your login and password, they still won’t be able to access your account because they won’t have access to see the two-factor authentication code that has been texted to you.  Remember, while 2FA might require an extra few seconds during the login process, the added security more than makes up for this minor inconvenience. 



Be Cautious Of Public Wi-Fi




While working from home, sometimes you may decide to pick up lunch or grab a cup of coffee.  While at a public location, you might be tempted to jump online and take care of a little business.  Of course, to access to the Internet, you might have to use the public Wi-Fi provided by the restaurant or coffee shop you are visiting.  The problem is that this could create serious security issues.  When you connect to a public Wi-Fi access point, you have absolutely no idea who provides that Internet.  While the name might be the same as the business you are visiting, in reality, anyone can setup a Wi-Fi access point with the exact same name and there is no way for you to know if you are on the legitimate access point or on the malicious access point setup by the criminal.


Now if you happen to connect to the bad access point, there will be little to indicate to you that there is a problem. However, during that time the criminal will not only have access to attack your computer, they will also have the ability to monitor what you are doing while on the Internet and in some cases even hijack your connections.


This is why it is extremely important that you avoid using public Wi-Fi access points for any business-related communications unless you have implemented a VPN solution. What’s a VPN? Well this is software or hardware that is designed to encrypt/hide your network traffic from potentially spying eyes.  If you are not sure if you are using or should be using a VPN, you should discuss this with your management before you ever use public Wi-Fi for business communication.


Be Very Cautious With Email


By now you should be very familiar with the potential risks of phishing emails, which include criminals sending emails to you that look legitimate but contain links, attachments, or instructions that could ultimately lead to the compromise of your computer, mobile device, or even your corporate network.  If you are not aware of the risks of Phishing, you should stop what your doing and immediately contact your management for additional assistance. Phishing emails remains the number one way malware makes its way onto computers and into business networks.



Now, assuming that you’re not falling for a Phishing attack today, you still need to remember that anything you send or receive in a basic email could be intercepted and read by a cybercriminal.  This is why it is extremely important that you never send private/confidential information in a standard email.  If you are in a situation where you must send this kind of information to a co-worker or even a customer, you should only do this through an encrypted message.


Most organizations have partnered with a third-party company to support the ability to send secured messages.  If you are not aware if your organization offers this option or if you are not completely certain about how to send a secured message, you should contact management for assistance.  In addition, if you ever receive a standard email from a co-worker or customer that contains private/confidential information, stop. Do not reply to the email and do not forward the email to anyone.  Instead, notify management immediately so they can review the best next steps to limit the exposure of the information.


While there will always be risk when you’re communicating online, by following these simple guidelines you can greatly reduce your own risk and the potential risk posed to your organization.  Remember, whatever you have access to, if a criminal gains access to your computer, they now have that exact same access.  If you have any questions, concerns or confusion, please do not hesitate to contact your management for additional help.

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