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Article from Issue 234/2020
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I don't know what world you are living in as you read this, but the world that I'm living in while I write this (three to eight weeks earlier than your world, depending on where you live) is busy with reinventing itself to contend with the coronavirus pandemic. Stores and restaurants are closed, schools are canceled, and offices are shutting their doors as employees make plans to "shelter in place."

Dear Reader,

I don't know what world you are living in as you read this, but the world that I'm living in while I write this (three to eight weeks earlier than your world, depending on where you live) is busy with reinventing itself to contend with the coronavirus pandemic. Stores and restaurants are closed, schools are canceled, and offices are shutting their doors as employees make plans to "shelter in place."

It seems a triumph of our 21st century civilization that so much of our life can move so suddenly and gracefully online. Community groups, book clubs, yoga classes, university classes, churches, and therapy sessions are all transitioning to online only. Still more significant are the millions of office jobs that are suddenly relocating.

As a society, we have been working on these tools for supporting remote work for more than a generation. The pieces are all in place – we just need to escalate the scale of the home office revolution. We also need to extend it to people who never really thought of themselves as home-office workers.

Most office networks are managed in a systematic way – either by a professional admin or at least through a process that has had some professional attention. Home networks, on the other hand, vary widely and support an astonishing variety of activities: games, music downloads, and social media, with mysterious websites popping up in search windows and spam email entering without the usual filters employed at the office. As we all prepare to work from home, keep in mind that Internet intruders and miscreants are well aware of this sudden migration and are hard at work right now devising ways to exploit it.

Here at my home office, with my cat crawling over my laptop keyboard (I think she's hungry), I jotted down a few important considerations for anyone who suddenly finds their home network is now their work network:

  • Router – home routers are notoriously insecure. Many need security updates and bug fixes. Others are altogether out of date and can't even be patched anymore. The erroneous security-by-obscurity protection that passed without objection on your home network won't apply anymore if your home becomes a site for financial records, employee records, and business plans. Find the password, log in, and make sure your router is up to date.
  • Backup – most offices have a system for regular backups. Will that system follow you home? If not, what are you going to do about it? Cloud backup is fairly easy to obtain now, but it still seems haphazard, and possibly risky, for every employee to act independently. Think about defining a coherent and consistent backup policy for all your organization's home users.
  • VPNs – another technology that has been around for years but that will receive lots of renewed attention with the tsunami of home connections. If the VPN to your corporate network is an occasional-use thing that was set up a few years ago, be aware that the state of the art for Internet encryption has changed significantly in the past few years, and some technologies that used to be considered secure are now on the outs with the experts. For instance, Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.0 and 1.1 are now deprecated, and other protocols that used to power VPNs of the past are also suspect. Be sure your VPN uses secure and contemporary encryption.
  • Video chat – Tools like Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams are the superstars of the pandemic era. Users all over the world are scheduling work sessions, doctor's appointments, and strategic planning retreats through video conferencing. As powerful as these tools are, be aware that they also have raised security concerns in recent months  [1]  [2]. I'm sure they are fine for water cooler talk, but if you really need to keep secrets, know their limitations.

A daunting list, and this is only the beginning. If you're lucky, your company's IT department will assist with ensuring your work-from-home configuration is as secure as your office configuration. (Of course, if you are reading this magazine, maybe you are your company's IT department.)

If your workplace has shifted to home, don't forget to attend to these details. But also don't forget that not everyone has the privilege of bringing their job home. In these turbulent times, remember those among us who find themselves suddenly out of a job and scrambling for shelter and grocery money.

Help out if you can, and hunker down. We'll get through this.

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