It’s that time of year for travel, visiting family, eating too much, and rushing around for last-minute errands and gifts. It is a hectic and wonderful time but if you are like me, it is also when you are trying to fit work into different locations, times, and levels of sobriety.
It is easy to be distracted in this season. Cyber attackers know this and you should be rightfully concerned.
Here are a few ways to keep you and your devices safe as you find yourself in new workplaces during the holidays.
1. Watch Where and How You Connect
Whether you are connecting on your parents’ wifi or from the closest Panera, you will be connecting differently and probably less securely than your normal home office. If your mom’s wifi doesn’t have “one of those silly passwords”, then you need to protect your presence on that connection:
- If your company has a VPN, you should use it. Or consider a paid VPN service.
- Keep your laptop firewall always running. Windows and Mac both have this built-in.
- Set yourself in stealth mode if you can.
- Make sure you have updated antivirus (AV) or endpoint detect and respond (EDR) software installed
- On your mobile device, use a security app like what AT&T and Verizon provide for free.
- If you want to be the safest, skip the wifi and tether your laptop to your phone with security app running.
If you follow these basic steps, you should be safe at your closest coffee shop to “get some work done” while enjoying some peace and quiet.
2. Think About How You Are Mixing Your Work and Personal Tasks
You are going to be doing a lot more personal tasks on your laptop than you normally do. This could lead to exposure on shopping sites, gaming sites, or elsewhere, which opens you to new threats. Be mindful of where that search for “adult sized Elf costume” or “Thanksgiving movies on Netflix” is taking you. Also keep in mind that if you are connected to your company VPN, you are traversing company property and are subject to their acceptable use policy. Tread carefully.
To help keep your focus, you might consider using one browser for your personal stuff and one for your work. Or if your browser supports tab groups, you can group your personal and work tabs separately. If you keep your screen organized, you are less likely to be confused by a popup or email request that is really a phishing attempt.
3. Be Aware of Who is Using Your Device
It’s easy to leave your laptop open on the table after you’ve found that recipe for leftover turkey melts. While you are searching your mom’s fridge for gruyere, your weird Uncle Steve might ask to “check his fantasy team.” You and your uncle might have a different idea of what a fantasy team is, and you could get the leftover spyware and bloatware that his surfing has put on your laptop.
A few items to help you with your potentially “over-shared” device:
- Make certain your device quickly locks when not in use. This is easy on phones, but on laptops you may want to set it to the minimum setting for the holidays.
- Close your devices and put them away if you won’t be using them for a while. Not that anyone is going to do anything to them, but gravy in the keyboard is just as problematic as privacy loss.
- If your device is running the Jackbox game or your phone someone got volunteered to play Heads Up!. Just make certain that you get it back at the end of the game. It is easy after a few glasses of wine to forget that your work laptop with all your year-end data is still sitting by the fire when midnight rolls around.
So while your uncle or cousin may not be trying to hack your device themselves, they are not going to be as concerned as you about what sites they visit and what fun new games they download. It is the season of giving, but I think you should be a bit selfish with your devices.
Stay safe and stay private this holiday season!