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Remote worker privacy protection in a digital world

Protecting Data Privacy Of Remote Workers

If you telecommute, the protection of your privacy is probably paramount to doing well on remote work tasks, receiving top rated job performance reviews, and earning bonuses. You’re probably banking on that job promotion you are customarily awarded every one to three years for exceeding expectations.

But, getting back to protecting your privacy.

More time spent online by remote workers increases risk of hacking

According to The Hill, telecommuters spend upwards of 13 hours each working day online! This also means that remote workers stare at blue screens about two hours more every working day than their in-office colleagues. There are some surveys (Vox) whereby participants report spending an extra 1 hour 7 minutes online each day (approximately 5.5 hours per week). We venture to add that the more time that a remote worker spends online may significantly increase the likelihood of falling prey to a cyber hack. But not just any increases in time spent online heightens the threat.

Cyberslacking while working on a remote job increases risk of privacy breach

A possible driver of increased time spend online could be related to slacking. Some I/O psychologists conducting research have found that there are remote workers who will “cyberslack.” O’Neill and Haberly define cyberslacking as the act of using unfettered online access for non work-related purposes, on the employer’s dime (2014). Slacking off in a virtual environment while one is supposed to be working is similar to slacking off in a traditional, in office environment.

Helpful articles to stay protected while working on a remote job:

Cyberslacking employees may peruse e-commerce websites and catalogs, visit social media platforms, sit in Discord, chat, Reddit, Twitter platforms reading, responding and exchanging in chatter about current events, fashion, and travel. When cyberslacking, rather than taking personal phone calls while situated in an in-person office, slackers may use idle time to check and respond to personal emails and random SMS messages. Further, to yield to peak temptation, cyber slackers may visit questionable websites that they probably would not have ventured to while working in a more traditional office setting, for fear of  being surveilled.

Reasons why remote employees are at higher risk for cyber hacking

Cyberslacking remote employees may experience increased risk of becoming victimized by hacking leading to data privacy breaches.  Tech Target offered several reasons why remote first employers and virtual staff are at higher risk for cyber hacking.

  • employing decentralized staff in multiple, distributed locations increase the entry points of vulnerability
  • recruiting top IT talent skilled in protecting from the latest ransomware attacks and breaches of security is increasingly more difficult
  • working from home gives remote workers an added sense of freedom from corporate monitoring and oversight of online activity
  • downloading corporate proprietary information on less secure, non-firewalled home devices
  • opening questionable emails and attachments with trojan horse viruses embedded
  • using home networks  and home routers with less robust security systems in place to identify and thwart malicious attacks
  • become victims of audio, webcam hacking, and zoombombing

Latest trends related to data and privacy breaches

The very last point, we hope to emphasize. Remote workers, by and large, are easy prey for audio, webcam hacking and zoombombing than we care to realize. Here’ definitions of the latest threats that can victimize virtually working teams.

A Wired article explained how “hackers can turn everyday speakers into acoustic cyberweapons” to emit excruciating noises.  Better yet, HackerNews described the manner by which cyber criminals can listen to your conversations held in the privacy of your own home. Researchers at Kansas State University demonstrated the ways hackers could listen in to your communications through your Smart devices. And its not the typical computer equipment that is most vulnerable,  in addition to smartphone, computers, tablets and laptops, Kansas State adds “smart TVs, Amazon Alexa, and Echo devices.” And, “Google Home, Facebook, thermostats, lights, any third-party apps using the microphone feature, AirPods and AirBuds, and most newer cars.”

Verizon, the global telecommunications giant cautions its customers about webcam hacking that can occur when a criminal gains access to and then activates a webcam without the permission of the device owner. They then abuse the access to spy on whatever’s within the webcam’s field of vision. Harvard University details cases of exploitation whereby nefarious individuals or groups of criminals who have not been invited to participate, enter Zoom meetings to disrupt them.

While this article emphasizes the virtual worker, working online as part of a distributed workforce, it can also include digital nomads whose working conditions may pose an even greater risk threatening their privacy.

Digital nomads are particularly vulnerable to privacy breaches

For digital nomads or remote workers working from anywhere in exotic locations, we’ve got to take great care to refrain from texting, emailing, talking and posting about private information while online.

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Further, we need to make doubly sure that we do not do this while we are accessing public Wi-Fi. The conveniences of public WIFI at hotels, restaurants, malls, airports and coffee shops represent an opportunity to work while traveling. But, at the same time, hackers and criminals can gain find out about your personal details through an open connection. Here’s a few eye-opening statistics from Norton:

  • 23% connect to the internet at a hotel or vacation rental
  • 21% use coworking spaces to access the internet
  • 14% access online sites from cafes
  • 6%  obtain online connections at public libraries

So, if you are a digital nomad, only use your data plan to access personal information, but do so quickly.

Tips to protect the privacy of remote workers working virtually

What are some of the other ways to protect your privacy as a remote worker working on a remote job or digital nomad? We have curated top-ranked recommendations from security experts at Kansas State University, Verizon and Jeni Rogers, the author of the book, “200+ ways to protect your privacy.” Our findings as well as some we’ve added are below:

  • Download manufacturer’s instructions for your particular device on how to disable the microphone
  • Establish a secure compartmentalized room (SCIF) in your own home to discuss private, confidential and financial information
  • Disable third party apps like Facebook, Instagram. For iPhones, go to settings >>  find the offending app >> scroll to find microphone >> then toggle it to the left so that it turns colors from green to white. For Android devices, go to settings >> click applications >> select application manager >> find the offending app >> click permissions >> turn off the microphone
  • While you are checking the apps on your phone, don’t forget to turn off access to personal data (this means your location, camera, and phone)
  • Affix removable table or label over your the lens of your webcam that can be removed as needed
  • Protect Wi-Fi home networks with strong passwords, use WPA2 security and disable universal plug and play
  • After looking through each of the preloaded apps on your phone and computer, determine which ones are absolutely necessary and delete or uninstall the ones for which you have no need
  • Consider disabling push notifications on your phone app
  • Take care to protect the information coming into your ‘locked screen’ by disabling the notifications appearing in your lock screen because criminals, with physical access to your stolen phone can pick up personal details about you if notifications were to pop up on in ‘locked screen’ mode
  • Refrain from using data or WIFI at concerts, country fairs, festivals or any event where large groups of people are gathered as criminals may be digitally and physically lurking around to see who is most vulnerable for hacking to gain access to personal information
  • Liberally use content filter features to block unwanted ads that can become an entry point into your device
  • Use the auto lock screen feature
  • Set up a Google or other ghost phone number when filling out forms at a charity event, drawing for awards, signing up for website subscriptions, etc to keep your personal phone number private
  • Be weary of using the biometric ‘face feature’ for unlocking your device as criminals can find images of you online to trick the facial recognition software to unlock your phone
  • Disable Bluetooth feature when not in use
  • Refrain from allowing apps to ‘run in the background’ by closing it and logging out to ensure it is truly closed
  • Refrain from synching  messaging apps to your personal contacts
  • Install a highly regarded phone-finding app and remote-wiping app on your phone to safeguard your personal information even when the phone is not in your possession
  • Block calls and texts from unknown numbers (open the call or text log >> select the block number option)
  • Use two factor authentication whenever possible







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