With a few precautions, employees can work safely and productively from home
With so many now working from home, and criminals not taking a coronavirus break, security is key
The message from the government about sending home non-essential workers sounds simple enough.
The execution, however, isn't so easy.
And now that the province has declared a state of emergency, more companies will be forced to take steps to allow staff to work remotely from home.
David Shipley, the CEO of Beauceron Security Inc., a New Brunswick-based cybersecurity software company, says employers needn't panic.
"You can work from home securely and productively," he said from his home office. In fact, only two of Beauceron's 20-member staff are actually going to the office to work.
How to prepare
Shipley said there are two things that employers need to do. The first is to understand that employees aren't going to be working the same way. There will be a change in productivity, he said.
The second is to provide employees with the right tools to do the job safely from home.
Although working from home creates resiliency for businesses struggling to continue operations, it also creates "a whole new set of opportunities for criminals," said Shipley.
"Criminals are not resting," he said. "They're not social-distancing, and they're certainly not giving the economy a break. They're leaning into it."
Shipley said cyber criminals have already created more than 4,000 malicious websites using COVID-19 as a lure. He said they've also "ramped up" their phishing and whaling attempts, as well.
Phishing — where a fraudster attempts to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by pretending to be someone known to the potential victim — "works not because of technology, but because it taps into human emotion," said Shipley.
COVID-19 "has opened up a whole new set of opportunities for criminals," he said.
It's important for remote workers to be vigilant about questionable requests and verify the details by contacting company officials directly, and not responding to the questionable email.
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Use secure networks
Shipley says employees should only use secure networks, and they should consider setting up "guest" accounts on their home router to divert children's online gaming and other activity from the main one, which should be reserved for work and more security-sensitive personal information.
Remote workers should be very wary of using public wi-fi. When possible, Shipley said they should use a VPN, or virtual private network, a software tool that creates a private connection that "keeps others on the same wi-fi network from being able to eavesdrop on your digital communication."
Protect your screens and conversations
Even when working from home, Shipley said employees should be aware of who can see their screen. Particularly in higher-density neighbourhoods, it may be possible to see into someone else's home workspace.
No matter where you work, he warns to "be careful about where you're pointing your screen, what information you're sharing, what conversations you're having in your household around others and whether it's appropriate for people to overhear those kinds of things."
Shipley says people often don't give much thought to the sensitive information they discuss on their mobile phones while in cafes, taking public transit, and on the street.
"You'd be shocked with the candid conversations that folks were having about very confidential matters."
Smart speakers could be listening
Employees should also be careful about having business conversations around smart speakers, which can pick up bits of conversation and believe they are being instructed to send snippets to a contact person. That could mean that discussions about a named client could be sent to that person.
Shipley said the importance of two-factor authentication cannot be understated.
"Microsoft has studies that show that using two-factor authentication can stop 99.9 per cent of common hacking attempts .. and most people still don't do it."
Amid the technological concerns and priorities, Shipley said it's important not to forget about the well-being of remote workers. Working from home can be isolating.
"Don't forget that your folks need to see you. So if you have options to do video chats and daily conversations, use them. Microsoft has stepped up in a huge way and is providing their Microsoft Teams productivity suite for free for the next few months to anybody that needs it. So you can use a tool like Office 365 to have high-quality video chats.
"People need to see other people's faces," said Shipley.
"When we come through this, I think we'll all be better for it, in terms of being more resilient," he said. "I do believe that the painful things we're going through now will help us in less dire situations.
"In the next flu season, maybe people will take it more seriously about working from home if you're not feeling well. And employers will feel more confident that people can still be productive at home and not have to come into the office. I think there is a lot of good that can come from this terrible situation in the long run."
Civil servants working remotely
With the civil service reduced to essential employees only, getting anyone to comment on the logistics of the provincial government's work-from-home efforts proved difficult Thursday.
Vicky Deschênes, a communications official with the Finance-Treasury Board, said government employees are extremely busy assisting with the COVID-19 situation.
"A committee of deputy ministers has been created to ensure preparedness and coordination of provincial efforts and the continuity of government services to minimize health, economic, and social impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak," said Deschênes by email.