Remote Workforce Security
Practical Guidance for Rapid Change
Businesses are rapidly shifting to work from home strategies in response to the current COVID-19 situation. Many are already adept at working from home and have strategies in place to protect networks, endpoints, and systems. They have proven policies in place to keep tabs on business IT assets and ensure that systems are constantly patched while temporarily disconnected from the office network. Antivirus monitoring still occurs, and their IT Managed Service Provider has already helped to secure remote access to systems and manage endpoint controls to keep their business secure.
This list is for businesses who did not have a plan in place and are being forced to shift rapidly. There is still plenty that you can do to protect your business during a less than ideal work from home (WFH) situation.
If you run a business and have staff temporarily working from home, it is extremely important that you implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) for your email platform (Office 365, Gmail, etc.) and for VPN access. MFA is the very best way to reduce the most likely cyberattack vector, credential harvesting via email phishing.
The following is a list of things that you can ask of your remote workers. Some of them will be able to tackle these tasks on their own, others will need help. Do what you can now and circle back to close any gaps as time permits.
Practical, easily implemented, work from home security strategies.
- Update the firmware on home Wi-Fi routers. Cyber criminals take advantage of known vulnerabilities to gain access to your home network. Fortunately, router manufacturers routinely release patches for known vulnerabilities, you just need to apply them.
- Step 1 – Log into your router. If you don’t know how to do this, first find the name and model number of your Wi-Fi router. Then, search Google for instructions on how to access your router’s internal web server/admin page. In most cases you access this via a web browser on a computer connected to your network.
- Step 2 – Take a backup. Backups give you a restore point should something goes wrong during the update. Look through the Admin settings in the router to find a backup option. If you can’t find it, Google your router model to find instructions.
- Step 2 – Run updates. Look through the Admin settings in the router to find a firmware update option. Again, if you can’t find it, turn to Google for some help.
- Set a new admin password on your home Wi-Fi router. The administrative credentials you used to access your router are the keys to the castle. They should NOT be left at the manufacturer defaults (e.g. admin, password) and they should be very strong.
- Step 1 – Log into the router with your existing admin credentials. If you don’t know them or don’t remember them, turn to Google to see if you can find instructions on how to reset the password OR try the default credentials for your router and give that a try.
- Step 2 – Look through the Admin settings in the router to find an option to change the admin password. Change it to something unique and long (15 – 26 characters). The longer the password, the better. Make sure to record the new password so you can find it when you need it (a password manager is the best place to store credentials). Make sure the admin password on your home Wi-Fi router is NOT the default and it is long (15 – 26 characters)
- Save the non-business Internet browsing, social media, email, and chat for your personal devices and your home/personal Wi-Fi network. As tempting as it might be to browse the Internet while your co-workers aren’t looking over your shoulder, you don’t want to be the one to introduce a virus while you’re working from home without your business firewall and otherrestrictions to keep you protected. Do it on your own device, not the business device.
- Devices accessing and storing any sensitive, confidential, or personally identifiable information (PII) should be encrypted. Windows 10 Professional operating systems can be encrypted using the built in Bitlocker. Be sure to keep a record of the encryption keys. When possible, a PIN code or passphrase on boot up is preferred to using windows credentials to unlock. If you are using a computer owned by your employer, you should consult with your IT department or management before encrypting the device on your own.
- If you are using a personal device (PC, Laptop, iPad…) to work from home (or if your business doesn’t already have a strategy in place for antivirus, operating system patches, account privileges, and a password manager):
- Install and update a good antivirus application. If you don’t have antivirus software, consider using Windows Defender (free for Windows devices and baked into Windows 10) or consider purchasing one. Macs also need antivirus protection.
- Make sure antivirus is running and launch the antivirus program to check for updates and set the software to automatically update as required.
- Check for Operating System updates and install them until there are no more updates to install. If you don’t know how to do this, Google “how to run updates on [your operating system here]” and follow the instructions. If you have a Windows device the instructions should come from Microsoft. If you have a Mac, the instructions should come from Apple. Do NOT download updates from anywhere other than the manufacture. Windows and Mac updates are performed from the device and you don’t need to visit a website for updates. Be careful not to download updates from a malicious website.
- For Windows, click on the start icon and type “Windows Updates” and choose the option to install updates on your computer.
- Create a separate admin account to be used only when you must perform an administrative task (i.e. install a printer or a new application). Use a non-admin account for your day to day personal and work tasks.
- Step 1 – Create a new user on your computer with administrative rights. Keep a record of the new username and password (a password manager is the best place to store credentials).
- Step 2 – Log off your computer and log in with the new admin user you created.
- Step 3- Find your primary user account and make that user a non-admin or “standard” user.
- Step 4 – Log off with the admin account, log back in with your primary user account and work as usual. If you are prompted for administrative credentials while trying to install software, a printer, running updates, or some other expected reason, enter your admin credentials to allow the task to complete. If you are prompted for admin credentials out of the blue, it might be an indication that you’ve tripped across malicious software that is attempting to install on your system. Don’t enter the admin credentials unless you are sure it is for a legitimate purpose.
- Purchase and use a password manager. There are many on the market. Following are a few of the most popular:
- Be on the lookout for email phishing scams designed to harvest your credentials and gain access to your work or personal email. Criminals will absolutely attempt to use the fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 environment to entice people to cough up their usernames and passwords. You will likely see “apply for assistance…”, “sign up now for information…”, “login to protect your account…”, “login to access government assistance…”. Suspicion is not retroactive. Slow down and think before you act. Anything marked “urgent” or where you are being pressured to “act now” should raise your level of suspicion.
- Proactively change passwords that haven’t been changed in the last 30 days. Consider the following:
- Workstation (Windows or Mac) login.
- Office 365
- Windows Active Directory
- Personal email
- Wi-Fi Router admin credentials
- Wi-Fi wireless password (SSID & Guest)
- Take an inventory of where you are storing important data (business and personal). Is that data being backed up? If not, implement a backup strategy. If this needs to be done on the fly consider an online cloud service or backing up to USB drive and then getting that drive disconnected from your systems so that it isn’t encrypted along with everything else on your computer in the event of a ransomware attack.
The above guidance is provided with the intention of helping businesses and their people while we all work to make sound decisions in a rapidly changing environment. These guidelines are not comprehensive. Rather, they are intended to address some of the most significant risks. Some of the above recommendations will not be possible in your environment and may even give rise to other issues.
If you are using IT assets owned by your employer, it is very important that you consult with your IT personnel or IT Managed Service Provider before acting. They may already be managing some of these things for you and/or ad hoc changes might cause other issues.
If you run a business and would like help managing the above tasks proactively and without having to rely on your personnel to do this on their own, please call Go West IT. We will be happy to help, and we have resources standing by to tackle this for you.