Think about your WFH and hybrid online security.

Think about your WFH and hybrid online security

February 20, 2024

Working from home (WFH) and working in hybrid format have become mainstream for knowledge workers, including communicators. By 2023, more than 40% of US workers were either engaged full-time at home (13%) or were in hybrid work (28%), according to Forbes Advisor. These figures are expected to continue to rise strongly. In the UK, WFH figures were even higher (16%) and similar for hybrid workers (28%), according to the Office for National Statistics in early 2023. When working away from the office it is important to think about your WFH and hybrid online security.

Obviously, being able to access your work from any location carries significant advantages for WFHers (or ‘Woofers’, as they’re sometimes known) – but the situation becomes more complex when analyzed from the point of view of daily employment security.

PR freelancers and consultants, who can work exclusively from home, are free to choose the computers and devices they use, and they are entirely responsible for their own online security. However, company employees who work in hybrid mode for part of their working week will almost certainly be supplied with a company laptop and will be obliged to adhere to their employer’s security protocols.

Things get a little trickier when a client entrusts a freelancer with commercially confidential material via remote access, and that freelancer either gets hacked or simply leaves their laptop on a train or bus. The sole trader could well be sued by the client for any losses incurred, and could easily be bankrupted if they don’t have limited company status. Aside from the obvious precaution of not taking sensitive material away from one’s clients’ data repositories, what can freelancers do to ensure that the work they produce for clients is as secure as it can be?

Stay ‘under the radar’ with a VPN

The most effective and affordable precaution for remote workers is to use the services of a reputable VPN provider. A VPN (virtual private network) operates by the simple method of connecting to its user’s internet service provider (ISP) via a ‘middleman’ or intermediary server. The VPN server is encrypted, so that the identity and location of the remote worker using the VPN are not detectable. In short, nobody can know who is accessing the internet for that session, nor where they are.

This anonymity is the first line of defense for remote workers, on the basis that if they are ‘invisible’ they are less likely to become the target of random hackers looking for low hanging fruit. It’s the same principle of simply not leaving a valuable item like an expensive handbag on the passenger seat of an expensive shiny new car in a parking lot. Opportunist thieves will easily see the bag, break the car’s window and steal the item. However, a scrappy old car with the same bag hidden under the seat would not get a second glance from wrongdoers.

It’s this invisibility which is so crucial to prevent hackers from breaking into remote workers’ machines. If a commercial entity gets hacked and a list of emails or CVs stolen, it wouldn’t take the hackers more than a few minutes to identify the people they also want to hack to gain potentially lucrative information. But if the freelancer uses a VPN every time they access the internet, they simply can’t be found.

Aside from the obvious advantages of this security when working from home, a VPN can also offer advantages for the personal devices of computer users. Let’s take a quick look at a couple of the most important benefits.

When WiFi hotspots are way too hot

If you’re out and about at a shopping mall or coffee house and you want to take a break, check your emails and look over a social media feed, there is almost always a free WiFi connection provided at the premises you’re patronizing. But these connections can often be ‘piggy-backed’ by hackers, who substitute the hot spot for their own. The unwary can log onto a hacker’s computer, enter their own email password or credit card details to make a purchase, and the hacker may have recorded the user’s keystrokes by using malware disguised as an innocent email offering a discount for products or services at those premises.

However, if the person had been using a VPN, the VPN server would detect the malware activity and instantly disconnect the user from that Wi-Fi hotspot before any damage could be done. For sure, it’s still a good idea to use up-to-date anti-virus software, but using a VPN adds a stronger layer of security.

Save money on business and leisure travel

By using a VPN you can also save money by avoiding the common but little known technique of ‘dynamic pricing’ – whereby travel and accommodation reseller websites base the prices they offer on detected user demographics. Every time a visitor reaches a hotel or flight booking site, the AI-driven analytics first uses the visitor’s IP address to map their location. It then notes the type of device used and matches this information with the type of accommodation / flights available and offers prices based on what the AI ‘thinks’ you can afford. So if you access the website from an IP address in downtown Manhattan on the latest model of iPhone, the algorithms are going to pin you as ‘rich’ and offer a price on the basis of what you can afford. However if you were to access the same website with a 10 year old Windows laptop, with your IP address placing you in the suburbs of New Orleans, don’t be surprised to learn that the price for the same accommodation or flight is offered cheaper.

By using a VPN, both your location and device are masked, and therefore this pernicious form of data mining can be avoided. In fact, you can even use a VPN to log on to the internet from the country where the accommodation you require is based. So if you’re looking for a hotel in Mexico, you can choose a Mexican IP address from your VPN, then the target website will even allow you to pay in Pesos, thus giving a better price and a better exchange rate.

These are just two of the advantages of using VPNs when working from home or when requiring remote access while out and about. There are other benefits, too, such as avoiding data throttling and accessing streaming platforms when away on foreign vacations. The list of benefits is considerable, so if you’re a remote worker, you will benefit from installing a VPN at the earliest opportunity.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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