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Privacy, Security Risks When Telecommuting

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 23, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you telecommute from home, chances are you don't have a receptionist there.

Nobody screens phone calls or checks for identification, either. If you have a home office, it probably doesn't have a lock on the door.

The main office, on the other hand, typically has all of these features. They are part of the business, and they provide some security.

For the telecommuter's business, however, security and privacy begin at home.

Home Security

Protecting data requires more than setting up firewalls and virtual private networks. Steven Chan, a research fellow and chief software architect at MIT, says telecommuters are especially susceptible to intrusions that may compromise company data.

Home-based workers usually don't have the same security and privacy protections as office workers. For example, Chan says thieves may hack home Wi-Fi networks or break in and take personal laptops to get company information.

"People who work alone are more vulnerable," he told MIT Technology Review. "If I know that your home office is that extension off the house or that your den is on the first floor, all I have to do is to steal your laptop or get past your Wi-Fi security."

Once a thief has that information, it is a short step to the company data. Put a lock on the door, as well as locks on the hardware.

Hardware and Software

Working remotely poses hardware and software issues, which are amplified when workers use public Wi-Fi networks. Studies show that the vast majority of people use unsecured networks when working away from the office.

Security experts recommend encrypting information on a telecommuter's hard drive and connecting to the internet through a VPN. Strong passwords, tracking software, and remote wipe programs are good for privacy, too.

Chan says credentialing, which authorizes employees to have access to company computers for task-specific information, can help protect company networks accessed remotely. Permissions should be reviewed regularly to ensure workers do not have access after they move on to the next assignment or job.

In addition to desktops and laptops, telecommuters often use mobile devices that need to be secure as well. Company or law firm networks should identify them through device fingerprinting, which enables a network to distinguish a device by IP address, device serial numbers, and other settings.

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