Security Tips, Free Tools for Working Remotely

March 25, 2020

With the number of cases of COVID-19 increasing throughout the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked people to practice social distancing, which includes working from home.

Because this happened rather quickly, many companies may not have a teleworking policy. While working from home can help slow the spread of the virus, it brings new challenges: juggling work while kids are home from school; learning new software and conferencing programs; and managing paper files at home. As you’re getting your work-at-home systems set up, here are some tips for protecting your devices and personal information, as well as a list of free tools to help.

Security Tips

  • Start with cybersecurity basics. Keep your security software up to date. Use passwords on all your devices and apps. Make sure the passwords are long, strong and unique: at least 12 characters that are a mix of numbers, symbols and capital and lowercase letters.
  • Secure your home network. Start with your router. Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WPA3). Encryption scrambles information sent over your network so outsiders can’t read it. WPA2 and WPA3 are the most up-to-date encryption standards to protect information sent over a wireless network. No WPA3 or WPA2 options on your router? Try updating your router software, then check again to see if WPA2 or WPA3 are available. If not, consider replacing your router. For more guidance, read Securing Your Wireless Network and Secure Remote Access.
  • Keep an eye on your laptop. If you’re using a laptop, make sure it is password-protected, locked and secure. Never leave it unattended—like in a vehicle or at a public charging station.
  • Securely store sensitive files. When there’s a legitimate business need to transfer confidential information from office to home, keep it out of sight and under lock and key. If you don’t have a file cabinet at home, use a locked room. For more tips, read about physical security.
  • Dispose of sensitive data securely. Don’t just throw it in the trash or recycling bin. Shred it. Paperwork you no longer need can be treasure to identity thieves if it includes personal information about customers or employees.
  • Follow your employer’s security practices. Your home is now an extension of your office. So, follow the protocols that your employer has implemented.

Backup/Sync Files

  • Google Drive: Make sure all your files on your computer are automatically synced and backed up. There are several cloud resources available to do just that. Everyone has a preference but the key here is to use the same service within your organization. It’s important to find out if your company already has a premium subscription to a service. You may end up having a lot more space to backup your files beyond what’s offered in the free version. Google Drive allows for up to 15GB of free space on their servers. If your organization enrolls in the G Suite for Nonprofits, then it goes up to 30GB. To enable automatic backups to Google drive, you’ll need to download Backup and Sync.
  • Dropbox: Dropbox basic allows for up to 2GB of free space on their servers. There is no free non-profit option but they offer to discount the business plan if you contact them directly. To enable automatic backups, download the desktop app.
  • OneDrive: Microsoft OneDrive allows for up to 5GB of free space on their servers. There is a non-profit plan that you can apply for, but only up to 10 users can get enrolled in this program; the rest are $5/month. Download the desktop app.

Chat Tools

  • With Slack, you can create lots of different channels, so your conversations can be organized by topics and/or teams. Slack offers up to 5GB of free storage in the total workspace. If you share lots of files then you’ll reach the limit pretty quickly. One way to optimize your storage space is to connect Slack with the file storage services listed above. That way, when you share, you browse your cloud storage account and share a link to the file. It’s important that everyone in your organization uses the same services as much as possible so there is seamless integration with these tools. Slack has app integration with all three—Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox.
  • Facebook Workplace: If you’ve used Facebook before, then you’re already familiar with the interface. Workplace is a separate platform so it’s not tied to your Facebook account in any way. Workplace has a standalone app just for chat so you can have it running in the background like Slack. Some organizations can sign up for Workplace for Good to get free access to all the premium services offered by Workplace. Workplace also offers integration with 3rd party tools like Slack.
  • WhatsApp: This is mobile app is a group messaging tool. It’s connected to a phone number and has no storage limits so it’s another option to consider. WhatsApp offers a desktop app that you can have running on your computer and sync with your mobile device.

Video Conference Tools

  • Google: If you’re using Google Drive under the G-Suite umbrella, then you have access to Google Hangouts Meet. Because of the impact of COVID-19, Google is offering free access (until July 1, 2020) to the advanced features of Hangouts Meet, such as hosting video meetings with up to 250 participants, live streaming with up to 100,000 viewers, as well as recording and saving meetings to Google Drive.
  • Microsoft Teams: Similar to Google, Microsoft is offering free access to Microsoft Teams with up to 250 video meeting participants and live streams of up to 10,000 viewers. Signing up isn’t as straightforward, so you’ll have to see if you’re eligible. Even if you’re not eligible for the premium access, you can still use the free plan and video conference with your team.
  • Zoom: This is one of the more popular video conferencing tools. Because of its popularity and with organizations working remotely, there may be a strain on Zoom’s servers, so it’s good to have a backup plan with Google and Microsoft within your organization. Under the free tier, you have access to run video meetings up to 40 minutes with up to 100 participants, but lately I’ve noticed Zoom allowing it to go over once you reach the time limit.
  • Facebook Workplace: If you’re using Workplace for group chats then you can also use Workplace to have one-on-one or larger group video meetings. In order to tune in, everyone must have access to the Workplace ecosystem, so this can’t be used if you need to include external stakeholders to a video meeting.

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