Staying Safe online

By Chloe Wood.

It has been 99 days since Boris Johnson announced to the UK that we will be going into lockdown due to Covid-19. This lockdown saw us swap our offices, to make-shift home set ups. Although lockdown rules are starting to be eased in the UK, (I’m sure we all can’t wait for a pint in the pub on the 4th), it would appear working from home is going to be our new normal, for the foreseeable future. During the pandemic, naturally our focus has been on staying safe, and protecting the NHS. However, with a 600% increase in phishing alone, a lot of us are working remotely making ourselves and our data vulnerable to cyber criminals.

So, before we get into how to protect our digital assets, let’s see why cybercrime has increased. Naturally, to work remotely we need some sort of internet connection, which of course opens a huge range of vulnerabilities. We are away from the security infrastructure of the office environment. Yes, you cannot really see the cyber security within your office but taking your device away from the office infrastructure means you no longer have the security provided by things such as firewalls and IP blacklists.

Cyber security can be hard to implement completely, even for the professionals, so this post will address the 5 common threats to remote workers and outline some simple techniques to mitigate against them.

PHISHING

As I mentioned before, phishing scams have skyrocketed since the end of March 2020. This includes traditional scams and the introduction of new scams exploiting our fear and worry of Coronavirus.

To mitigate against phishing, if possible, all work should only be carried out on corporate devices – especially if a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy has not yet been thoroughly designed and delivered. Not only will this ensure you have the protection of the security controls implemented by your organisation, but it will help your IT guys manage this new, remote digital infrastructure the lockdown has created. This means the IT team can manage the corporate devices as normal, allowing them to monitor all activity on the network, which is vital if anything malicious starts appearing.

To really adopt a defence-in-depth approach against phishing we cannot just rely on the technical side of security, we can also use our own knowledge and education. It is so important to stay updated on what type of scams are going around, which can easily be done by visiting IT Governance “Catches of the Month”. By educating ourselves about this, we can stay alert when we go through our inbox. Alongside knowing the specific scams about at the moment, its always best practice to become suspicious of any emails asking to input sensitive data, such as your card details, no matter how legitimate the email appears. If you receive an email like that, always try and verify it before clicking on anything included in the email, such as messaging the person its claiming to be from in another way which is not email (phone call, skype message). Phishing scams play on a sense of urgency, forcing us to make quick decisions with huge consequences, so always take your time to verify the authenticity of the email. 

UNAUTHROISED ACCESS TO CORPORATE NETWORKS

To ensure you are not allowing anyone unauthorised to access the network, it’s best to use an encrypted network. Now, I know this can sound quite technical, but you are probably already doing it. Most up-to-date home Wi-Fi networks provide this type of security, in the form of allowing you to set up a password to your Wi-Fi connection. Make sure you have changed your password to something different than the default one you were given. This can be done simply by logging into your router, which can be done by inputting your routers IP address (usually you can find this somewhere on your router) into the address bar of your web browser and logging in. Then go to the wireless settings tab and input your desired password in the password field. Remember it is always best practice to change passwords regularly.

As you are working remotely, it would make sense to use remote access security controls, specifically two-factor authentication. This is super easy to implement, I personally like to use the Google Authenticator app on my smartphone to generate one-time codes for all my logins.

ENSURE PRIVACY WITH A VPN

To create an encrypted network connection that authenticates the user and encrypts data in transit between the user and the network, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) should be used. Most corporate devices should have this set up for you already, but do not worry if your organisation does not have a state-of-the-art tech team, most business routers and some small home routers have built in VPN capabilities.

The two VPN technologies you should be interested in are OpenVPN and IPsec. OpenVPN is for those of you still accessing a business router, whereas IPSec is supported by lower cost, home routers. Both technologies can be configured by logging into your router and, most often than not, clicking a few boxes.  Once you have OpenVPN configured, you should install apps on the device that will access your brand-new VPN. These can be found on the OpenVPN website, then install and configure them with the files generated while setting up OpenVPN on your router. If you are using IPSec VPN, this is usually built into most devices, so you won’t have to go through the same app installation process as OpenVPN.

UNAUTHORISED ACCESS TO SENSITIVE INFORMATION

With modern day laws and regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) not taking any prisoners when it comes to dishing out fines and the current economic situation not looking too great, it’s probably best we all scrub up on our data protection techniques to avoid those hefty fines.

Information leakage can be easily avoided if we take the right precautions, especially when it comes to emailing information. You should try and avoid emailing sensitive information, instead adopt the use of corporate intranet resources, perhaps a SharePoint team site, to share working files – this is also super convenient at making sure files stay up to date! Obviously, when we’re all working from home adopting a new method isn’t the ideal situation, so if using the intranet is not possible and you do have to email sensitive information make sure you apply email sensitivity classifications in your email subject.

Alongside, these preventive measures we also need to adopt detection techniques. This can be achieved by installing updated anti-malware and anti-virus software. It is always best practice to keep any software on your device updated. To do this turn on your auto-updates and regularly restart your device. I know updates often do not seem to make any different to the app, but they regularly patch against vulnerabilities found in older software versions.

STAYING SAFE DURING VIDEO CALLS I’m sure now we’re all very used to Zoom calls both for our professional and personal lives, so I don’t need to give you a run down on how easy that is to use. However, the one bit of security advice I can offer is do not share the virtual meeting URL’s on any public facing platforms, such as social media.