Protecting Your Computers & Network
Be sure to read Security Basics because it introduces preventing unauthorized access and key elements of security upon which this page builds.
Now we live in a world that is strictly bounded by our capacity to understand it, by our ability to keep up with the pace of technological change, and to manage the new risks and security challenges that come with limitless storage capacity, limitless transmission capacity, limitless data mining capacity.
We are bounded by our own limited capacity to understand, to imagine the implications of data flow and data aggregation, and our ability to teach. — Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Creating a Security Policy
Create a security policy for the computers in your home or business. This will provide guidelines in making security decisions and help your family or employees understand the need for security.
Your protection depends on:
- protecting your computers and devices with good quality security software that is updated regularly;
- knowing how that security software operates so you're not fooled by fakes; and
- your knowledge about other security threats (including hoaxes) and how to respond to them correctly.
A Written Policy
A written security policy ensures that you cover all the necessary basics and clarifies responsibilities.
A simplified policy for children may be necessary, but it is better to restrict their access so that bad decisions are less likely.
Security Policy Elements
Your security policy should contain at least these elements:
- Who has access to your Internet (WiFi).
- Who has access to your computers and devices as well as specific access to certain files.
- What USB devices can be plugged into the computer and how they are managed.
- Employee password policies.
- Accessing the Internet outside the home/office environment.
- Who can install and maintain software.
- Who will maintain security software and ensure updates.
- Who can service your computers.
Security is Everyone's Responsibility
The user is the point of greatest vulnerability which is why a security policy is useful and necessary if everyone that uses your Internet and devices is to take security seriously.
If others use your computer or devices, they also need to take security seriously.
Educate About Evaluating Risks
Ensure that everyone using your computers understands how to evaluate risks.
Warnings by phone or email indicating your computer is “infected” are common. ALL are scams. Watch for these signs:
- Simply opening an infected image or other attached file can be enough to endanger the data on your computer. More….
- Any warnings that appear on your screen, particularly if they indicate that you have hundreds of infections, are scams. Know how the security software you installed reacts to an infection.
- Do NOT follow instructions given by an unsolicited email or phone call. These are scams, no matter who they say they are. Just hang up.
- There are logs on Windows computers that show errors even when they are operating normally. Scammers may try to use these logs to convince you that your computer is infected.
- If you provide a caller with access to your computer so they can “fix a problem” you'll end up with an infected computer, an expensive credit card bill, or both.
Family members and employees should be instructed NOT to respond to such ploys. If you're concerned, call the person that maintains your computers.
Access to Internet
There needs to be a policy regarding access to your home or business Internet (WiFi) in order to protect your network and the devices connected to it.
BEFORE you connect:
- A secured home or office network is always preferable to an unsecured network.
- Ensure that your security software (antivirus, firewall) is turned on.
- Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is recommended.*
- Confirm the WiFi network name with the business owner.
- Be sure to use secure sites, those starting with HTTPS, especially where you need to login to an account.
- Turn on two-factor authentication for your accounts.
- Disable file sharing.
*NEVER access financial sites like banks, PayPal or shopping sites while on a network you don't control without using a trusted VPN.
Protect Your Network
In both homes and businesses the network provides access to the Internet but also can be used to share files and printers between computers and devices.
Vulnerabilities in either the network itself (e.g. the modem or router) or devices connected to it can lead to a compromise of your security.
Not only are computers, tablets, smartphones and networked printers connected to your network, but so are smart assistants (Google Home, Alexa, etc.) and a “smart” devices which can be used to invade your privacy.
Older smart home devices employ obsolete security (short passwords on 2.4 GHz WiFi).
Always change the default passwords on routers and similar equipment and turn off access to insecure devices.
Many current routers provide a separate “guest” WiFi so that visitors to your home or business can have access to the Internet without access to your network. You should still consider whether you want users to have access at all since you're responsible for any illegal activity on your internet account.
Free WiFi Presents a Risk
We're constantly on the go and want to remain connected but choosing an unsecured WiFi network could undo all that we've done to secure our computers and devices.
- Cellular is more secure than public WiFi.
- Turn off automatic WiFi connectivity on your devices to avoid being connected either to unknown networks. If WiFi is enabled it nulls the better security provided by a cellular connection.
- Turn off Bluetooth when you're in public. An unscrupulous person can gain access to your device via an open Bluetooth connection.
- A VPN encrypts all your wireless traffic to protect you and the person or service you're connected with.
Others on the same network could intercept information like passwords and confidential information using easily-available hacking software. Watch this YouTube video.
Captive Portals No Safer
You'll want to ensure that when devices are outside the home or business they don't leak confidential information or download malware that could infect your own network.
The log-in screen requiring you to agree to the WiFi network's terms in coffee shops and elsewhere are called captive portals and are no safer than an open WiFi network, but give you the illusion of safety.
Captive portals can interfere with secure (HTTPS) sites, calling them “untrusted connections” which leads people to ignore such warnings in the future.
- The risks of public hotspots: how free WiFi can harm you.
- How captive portals interfere with wireless security and privacy.
- A Guide to Public WiFi discusses WiFi security and privacy.
Protecting Business Computers
Business computers are found in the office, home offices and on the road for mobile employees.
Correctly assessing the risks and determining the best method of protecting these devices while allowing for the necessary out-of-office communications and access to company data is critical to ensuring that your confidential business information remains protected.
Engage leaders from across the organization--not just those within IT. Include people from different functional areas, such as human relations, marketing, operations and finance. Other players essential to this conversation are your lawyer and your accountant/auditor. — Inc.
Be aware that your employees, as much as you trust them, can be the source of security problems either because of carelessness or deceit.
You need to take into account what each person must have access to in order to do their job, but also the potential repercussions if someone were to exploit that access.
One such activity is the casual or intentional but unauthorized viewing of confidential files such as customer records. Not only is that illegal, but it can be a precursor to someone selling that information or setting themselves up in business using your client base.
Your policies should note that a need to know as well as the necessary security clearance based upon the job description is required before viewing such records.
- Half of businesses can't spot these signs of insider cybersecurity threats.
- Don't plug it in! How to prevent a USB attack.
It is critical you ensure that employees can detect and avoid phishing attacks.
Phishing is a form of spam intended to obtain financial and personal information by deceit.
When your employees fall victim to a phishing attack, your entire corporate network and brand is at risk. The cost can be stunning.
— Vade Secure
Phishing has been the primary method of obtaining the necessary information to perpetrate hacking and the resulting data breaches including at Equifax.
The Equifax data breach, which exposed the sensitive personal information of nearly 146 million Americans, happened because of a mistake by a single employee…
— The New York Times (emphasis mine)
Most phishing attacks are aimed at small and midsize businesses, up to 60% of which will fail within six months of a cyber attack.
There are more of these phishing emails aimed as specific individuals based upon their function in the company and trending subject lines that have proven more effective.
Some of these phrasings are standard day-to-day subject lines, but as one expert explained, "the attacker wants you to be moving too fast to stop and question if it's legitimate." — Tech Republic
Teach Security Basics
To protect your business, it is important that your employees understand both the risks as well as how to detect such attempts to gain access. They need to develop a security mindset.
Since 91% of all cyber attacks begin with a phishing email, taking steps to defend against phishing attack might be the single most important aspect of an overall threat defense plan. — DuoCircle
Pause before clicking: Stop. Think. Connect.
Patch Your Computers and Devices
Security patches and updates are inconvenient and time consuming. When things go wrong, you may wish you'd left things alone.
However, software updates are the best method to protect your business from such attacks since they patch known security vulnerabilities.
One person needs to be responsible for maintaining updates, whether that person performs all updates or is the person that ensures they are done. Don't forget that all electronic devices require updates.
Determining your risks and security procedures should include employees across your business. They may be aware of risks that you don't recognize. However, the final decision is yours.
[W]hile most Windows systems on a network should be receiving regular security patches to ensure they can't fall victim to attack, it's all too easy for the PoS terminal to be forgotten about. — TechRepublic
If you have employees working from home or road warriors, you'll need to ensure that their equipment is being updated as well. Your security policies should cover this requirement including how it is to be accomplished.
- Do they bring the equipment to the office when an update is available?
- Do they do the updates themselves. How do you ensure compliance?
- What about equipment that isn't mobile like their home network and wireless connections?
What About Employee Devices?
Employees may be accessing the Internet via their own devices, rather than company equipment. They may also find it easier to use those devices when working for you or while at home.
Employees use their work phones and computers for personal use, that's a fact. Yet, the reverse is also true, as employees can use their smartphones and computers at home for work as well. Doing either can potentially expose an organization's sensitive data to a breach. — ZoneAlarm
Both have security consequences since around 42% of all Android devices are said to not carry the latest security updates.
It is strongly recommended that employees use company computers and smartphones for business purposes only, and use their own equipment for personal use only. This is especially true when working from home or on the road.
Use Current and Appropriate Software
Software, including operating systems, generally have an expiry date. Vendors release new software versions and end support for previous versions. In some cases the vendor may not explicitly state software is not supported, but may list system requirements that are no longer currently supported (e.g. an unsupported version of Windows).
Depending upon the software and its critical nature in your business, you can place your business at risk. The following example is specific to Microsoft Office for Mac, but similar risks exist for other business software:
After Oct. 13, 2020, the lack of support for Office 2010 and Office 2016 for Mac means that using those applications in your business or organization could be construed by courts and regulatory agencies as negligence — possibly criminal negligence. The kind of negligence that leads to fines, penalties, incarceration, and bankruptcy.
Larger businesses face different risks and the solutions may require Managed Security Services which are run remotely.
Working From Home
Working from home grew from about 10% of workers to 40% or higher in some instances during the pandemic. For many, this may become permanent, requiring a revising of the security policies and changes to how equipment is paid for and managed.
Continued access to remote work has been one option for those that refuse to be vaccinated.
This is a balancing act that requires understanding the differences between the requirements of executives and those earning much less while ensuring the protection of the business assets.
Working from home has ended the commute for many employees, but it has also made it harder to separate their work and home life.
Adobe reports that employees are juggling longer hours and struggling with work-life balance.
Employers must think differently about security and other IT considerations. Many of the rules for protecting the business are based upon at least the majority of employees being based on the business premises.
For employees, it's a change in routine and locale, but for businesses, it's much more than that — every company has far more to consider.
— Tech Republic
Consider the nature of work performed and liability issues (does worker's compensation apply?) and the ability to fit the work environment into a home setting if the person is living in a small one-bedroom apartment or condo.
Who is going to pay for the internet access and is it secure? Probably not if it isn't part of your company VPN where personal use may also compromise your security.
- Employers are setting rules on home offices. Yes, the one in your home.
- Home vs. office: Why there's such a disconnect between workers and employers.
- Contract work policy.
While password policies are something that every business needs to implement, it needs to be tempered with the reality of how passwords are usually generated in the real world as well as human nature.
The NCSC says that websites and employers who try to enforce complexity requirements (and those who make users change passwords regularly) may be doing more harm than good. That's because the ways users try to meet these requirements while still remembering a password are highly predictable. — Infopackets
When employers expect users to generate your own passwords, those passwords tend to fall into patterns that are known to hackers. Combined with a password policy that requires frequent password changes, your security tends to worsen rather than improve.
Password Manager Required
That is where a password manager comes in.
Products like LastPass will generate random passwords and save them securely, even in cross platform business environments. LastPass can change the passwords for the various accounts it is protecting, making the practice of frequent password changes safer.
Because you only need to remember one password (the one that protects your LastPass account) you're less likely to repeat password patterns. Combine that with password memory helpers to create a safe and memorable LastPass password, your security is increased.
Browser-based password managers, while convenient, are not secure nor do they allow the use of passwords across devices without using an online service (many of which are not reliable or secure).
Reliable Backups Critical
Business data is now primarily electronic. Much of the old paper tracking has been replaced with PDFs, e-Transfers, PayPal, online shopping carts, accounting programs, etc. The few remaining paper documents would likely be unable to recreate your business if all your electronic documents were wiped out.
According to an industry study by The Diffusion Group, who surveyed small business organisations, 60 percent of companies that lose their data close down within six months of the disaster and a staggering 72 percent of businesses that suffer major data loss disappear within 24 months. — Workspace
Around the world, IT professionals reported a 6% increase in data loss leading to downtime compared to 2020. That's an 18% increase over our 2019 findings. Similarly, personal IT users reported a 5% increase in permanent data loss over 2020 and an 8% jump from 2019. Despite all of the new technologies put in place, this problem isn't going away. In fact, it's getting worse. — Acronis
You'd need to be able to get up and running in as short a time as possible. Delays could damage your credibility and reputation. Complete and accurate backups are critical.
You need to restrict access to business computers:
- Only employees with significant understanding of the risks should have administrative rights.
- Your company policies should indicate what software each level of user can or can't add or remove without express permission.
- Software, security and Windows updates are best done by you (or a single trusted employee reporting directly to you) so that you know your computers are protected.
- Access to personal social media sites like Facebook or personal software on business computers can lead to security risks for your business.
- Business social media accounts should be managed by experienced employees that understand the medium as used by a business. It is easy for followers to un-Like you if something goes wrong.
- The use of unsafe media like USB thumb drives can infect computers, including those on your network.
When your employees fall victim to a phishing attack, your entire corporate network and brand is at risk. The cost can be stunning.
— Vade Secure
As more people work from home, poor security practices can place your business at risk. Your IT specialists aren't within easy reach and no one is ensuring they are following prescribed policies.
Employees found to be negligent in protecting their employer's security may find it affecting their future employability.
- How to enable data theft protection measures discusses the various sources of data theft and how to protect your business.
One creative alternative is Menlo Security's Secure Web Gateway:
For companies that don't want to isolate all web traffic, we are providing greater ability to specify which users or categories of websites to isolate.
For example, we can now automatically isolate any web service that was created with software known to be vulnerable to hacking, such as unpatched versions of WordPress and Drupal. End users don't even realize their web sessions are actually occurring on our platform rather than on their PCs.
With our new "Isolate and Read-Only" capability, administrators can allow employees to access — but not interact on — webmail and social media sites. That way, they can't be tricked into providing credentials to clever phishing scams. — Menlo Security blog
Increase Your Security Budget
Corporate and business Information technology (IT) departments are seriously underfunded and a significant number of employees aren't concerned about the affect their lax security habits could have on the company.
Saving money on IT security may benefit you in the short term, but could cost you a great deal in the long term. You could lose your company's credibility if you're hacked and lose critical business information or suffer a data breach revealing your customer database.
- Security awareness training is crucial for your business.
- 9 steps to slowing and stopping your next data breach.
- Q&A: How to think smarter about database security.
- Potential security threats to your computer systems.
Protecting Home Computers
While this section primarily discusses computers, people are increasingly accessing the Internet over tablets and smartphones as well as smart devices like Google Home and Alexa.
Protect the Integrity of Your Devices
Protect the integrity of your computers and devices by restricting access.
- Use secure and unique passwords as well as your answers to security questions (anything based upon information posted on social media sites like Facebook or common knowledge about you can be easily guessed by others).
- Don't put your business data at risk. Business computers in your home or business should be used ONLY for business and should be secured with a decent password.
- Provide your family with a separate computer (they are relatively inexpensive these days).
Reliable Backups Critical
So many of our transactions today are electronic. Our bills come via email or are provided online. Think of the monumental task of recreating your financial history of the last year at tax time if you were to lose everything on your computer.
Then there's your collections of photos, music, videos and personal documents, many of which are irreplaceable.
Complete and accurate backups are critical.
Working from Home?
Because you'll be spending about a third of your day in your new home office, be sure to acquire the necessary equipment to make it work for you.
Working from home creates its own policy requirements, including privacy and security:
- You need to be able to use Online meeting software like Zoom and your phone without being overheard.
- Confidential company or client data on your computer or your desk needs to be secured. Use a dedicated computer and get a locking file cabinet.
- Sound-proof your work environment so that outside noises are minimized. A flushing toilet during a Zoom meeting can kill your professionalism.
While working from home can be challenging, a policy can help your family understand the necessity for being undisturbed during working hours.
We're Not Alone
Keep in mind that others in your home have their own requirements such as homework and . Accommodating those can go a long way to garnering acceptance. If you're unable to schedule Internet use, you may need to increase your bandwidth so that everyone can get adequate access.
- Best practices for working from home.
- Tips for creating a productive home office in the remote work era.
Restrict Children's Access
Your children should not have full access to devices they use, including the ability to install or remove software. This includes:
- administrator privileges, even on their own computers and devices.
- denying the ability for their friends to make changes of any kind to the family's computers.
You are legally liable for any computers and devices as well as the Internet access you provide no matter who uses them. Visits to illegal or unauthorized copyright material could result in very large fines.
Protect Your Children
Children are curious and often more comfortable with technology than their parents. It is important that you monitor their activities for their own protection.
- Children are vulnerable because of their ignorance and curiosity. They often want to hide their activities from their parents in their eagerness to be “grown up.”
- While it is important that children's privacy is protected on corporate and public sites and social media, it is important that parents understand what their children are doing online and who they are interacting with.
- Ensure that your children don't share personal information online. Information like age (birth dates), home address, full name, etc. can be used for identity theft.
- Predators want to sexually exploit your children or entice them to meet secretly outside of your home.
- Place computers in common areas of your house and don't allow Internet-accessing devices in their rooms, particularly when the door is closed or at night.
Separate Computers for Schoolwork
The computer(s) your children are using for their schoolwork should be separate from the one where you do your banking, pay your bills, health records, etc. Many schools have employed tracking software (“anti-cheating software”) during the pandemic and none reveal everything about how they work or what they collect.
Interactions on Facebook and elsewhere could reveal your private information. Protect your privacy by removing the temptation and ability of your children to share such information inadvertently.
You have the right to choose what is appropriate for your children.
You'll need to learn more about how children are exposed to unwanted material online and how you can protect them.
It's important to know what threats kids are facing so that you can have the right conversations and implement the precautionary measures. It's also hugely important to set some fair and effective ground rules for how your kids use the internet.
— 17 rules to protect my child online