Data privacy threats for people working from home in Hawaii

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From the Big Island to Kauai, workers were ordered to stay at home until the coronavirus pandemic passes. Telecommuting has long been recognized as a major player in Hawaii’s economic future. When the threat passes, working at home may become more deeply embedded in the state’s business culture as workers and employers iron out the kinks and realize the benefits of telecommuting.

There are important security considerations, especially for workers who once relied on office firewalls and IT experts to keep them safe online. The first suggestion is to fortify home security and try using a VPN for 30 days.

Sensible Practices for Working at Home

Before delving into the benefits of a VPN (virtual private network), let’s review some measures everyone can do to improve their online security profile while working remotely:

Safeguard computers/devices at home and keep work data separate.

The laptop and tablet with those spreadsheets, documents, and cloud access to company work has an enormous amount of information that must be kept safe. Remember that portable devices are attractive targets for thieves. Also, do not leave devices unattended at home where naturally curious family members or roommates can see proprietary work in progress.

Take the following hardware physical security and cyber-defense measures while working from home:

Keep professional work separate from personal business.

Doing personal banking business and processing work invoices on the same device can lead to clutter, mix-ups and compromises. If home and office work cannot be done on separate hardware, set up separate user accounts on the device. Also, never use a personal email address to conduct work business.

Encrypt the hard drive, and password protect the device. Pay close attention to password protection.

Do the following as a minimum to block unauthorized users:

1. Make sure the device password is both hard to crack and easy to remember. Use a passphrase, rather than something someone could guess from reading a Facebook profile.

2. Set the device to enter the sleep mode when unattended and require the password to reactivate the computer display.

3. Encrypt the device hard drive and password protect data files. If the computer is stolen, the hard drive will be unreadable. Also, password protected files cannot be surreptitiously accessed or copied.

Practice cybersecurity awareness.

Remote workers in Hawaii are vulnerable targets for hackers. A KITV Channel 4 online piece has a revealing title, “State says phishing is Hawaii’s biggest cyber security issue.” The article refers to a 2019 FBI report that Hawaii had 1,100 victims who lost money because of online scams.

Emails are the main vehicles because they arrive at in-boxes with innocent and sometimes authentic looking free offers, virus-laden image files, or links to fraud-infested dark websites.

Home workers need to be especially careful. Scam artists have been known to gather enough information on a company from social media to transmit fake invoices or emails “authorizing” money transfers. Remote workers should keep a lower profile on social media, especially during working hours. Avoid the temptation to socialize and network more on Facebook, for example. Hackers are looking for that telltale increased activity to target new phishing or malware campaigns.

The best approach is to never trust any unsolicited email. If the email has an attachment or a link, do not open either. If the email is from a known sender, has an attachment or link, or involves a financial or information exchange, verify the transaction separately with the sender.

Know about firewalls and malware protection

Today’s Windows and Mac computer operating systems have built-in cybersecurity, and they provide strong protection against viruses and malware. The leapfrog battle between hackers and software fixers is such that commercial anti-malware products tend to keep up better than operating systems patches. So, a professional grade malware detection product is a step ahead of hackers.

Secure the home wifi connection with a VPN.

Subscribing to a VPN like Surfshark, which offers a 30-day free-trial period, adds another layer of privacy and security. A VPN provides an encrypted connection between the user and the website or remote network. The user logs onto a VPN server away from home. So, the user’s actual location is hidden and the activity appears to originate from a server other than the user’s actual location.

As the user connects to the destination, the outgoing and incoming data stays secure. Even if the user or destination are subjected to surveillance, spies and hackers cannot locate the user without government-grade surveillance capabilities.

The user has two options when using a VPN: 1) set up the VPN on multiple devices, or 2) install VPN firmware on the home router. Installing a VPN, option 1, on every home device is more convenient for portable remote sessions. Option 2 is somewhat more complicated in execution, but equipping the home router with a VPN has the benefit of protecting every device at home through the router, without special settings or connections on the individual devices.

How a VPN Can Protect Homeworkers in Hawaii

A VPN blocks man-in-the-middle attacks.

Safe distancing while at a public wifi hotspot will protect against coronavirus infection, but it won’t protect a user against computer hackers. Installing a VPN is the best safeguard against spies and snoopers. The VPN can make the public network secure by encrypting the user’s connection.

A VPN makes comparison shopping easier.

Travel sites and airline ticket sellers often advertise different prices, depending on the ISP address of the customer. Likewise, some ecommerce business charge higher prices for users logging in from more affluent locations. A VPN permits the user to pose as a shopper from another location with an opportunity to get the best online deal.

A VPN prevents web activity tracking.

Marketers and ad sellers want to know where people go, where they shop, and what products they buy on line. The enormous amount of big data that accrues from tracking that activity has been the foundation of the Facebook and Google worldwide fame and fortune. Internet service providers want a piece of that action and they sell their activity log data to marketers.

Premium VPN providers like Surfshark block that tracking through a “no-logs” feature. They keep no records of user activity and will not sell or disclose that information.

The Difference Between Premium VPNs and Free Products

There are a number of free VPN providers available. Those services are essentially slimmed down versions of full-featured premium services and they come with some significant disadvantages:

To remain cost-free those VPN services must generate income. They do that by selling user data to marketers.

Free VPNs can slow down the internet connection.

Customers on the free side of the VPN service could take a back seat to paying customers when allocating bandwidth. Also, advertising and ad popups can interfere with browser performance with annoying slowdowns and page shifting as the ads load in the background.

Free VPNs are a secondary target for hackers.

According to VPN Mentor, free VPNs are prone to carry adware with piggy-backed malware. Online ads can be dangerous vectors for bots, trojans and sinister viruses.

Why Premium VPNs Are the Better Choice

A VPN is an invisible shield that hides the user’s location. Free VPNs do that, but there is no guarantee of privacy and protection against adware. For just a few dollars for a monthly subscription a premium VPN provider like Surfshark offers the following advantages over a free VPN:

• a “no-logs” policy. The user is never tracked online, and the service maintains no connection or activity logs.
• web activity that is hidden from user’s internet provider
• a top-grade best-in-class 256-bit encryption
• a safeguard against data leakage if the connection drops
• defeating geo-blocking to uncover the best ticketing and online shopping deals
• extra features like Surfshark’s web app CleanWeb™, which blocks malware, trackers, phishing attempts, and intrusive ads

Summary and Conclusion

Working at home in Hawaii may become the “new normal” for much of the state’s workforce. The coronavirus pandemic has forced more workers away from their office cubicles, and they need to become more security aware. That awareness includes safeguarding home hardware with password security.

Hawaii workers are in a less safe environment away from their normal workplace protections of firewalls and IT support staff. They also need to be aware of security risks and secure their wifi connections.

An added layer of security is through a VPN, which provides a secure, encrypted connection between the user and the VPN server. A VPN masks the user’s location and defeats online tracking through encryption. Also, a worker practicing safe distancing and using a VPN can safely use free public wifi spots.

A VPN also uses geo-blocking. This feature helps the user locate local bargains not available to outside users.

Also, when the user employs an encrypted VPN no-logs connection like Surfshark, the ISP cannot detect the user’s web activity.

Finally, premium VPN services are the better choice when it comes to security and privacy. Some free services sell online activity records and install adware into the user’s browser. Premium VPN services like Surfshark provide no-logs security and additional benefits like adware and online virus detection.


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