The first critical aspect when working from home these days is a secure Internet connection. Many people have either cable or fiberoptics connections at home. (Think Comcast for cable or Verizon Fios for fiberoptics). However, do not assume that your staff has a good, secure Internet connection. Ask employees what they have, and of course, check what you have. You want to make sure that you and your staff have a high speed, reliable connection. If your staff member does not have a solid connection, you might need to look into purchasing something for them. This is not the time to be penny wise and pound foolish. If you need your staff to work from home, you need to pay for the tools they require to do so.
Your Employee’s Home Connection
If your employees already have solid, high-speed Internet connections, then they, and you may prefer that they use them for work. Keep in mind, you may need to supplement the cost to increase the speed of the connection. If your employee has a spouse and children at home due to Covid-19, they may have a lot of people streaming high bandwidth content all at once. In addition, certain types of connections share bandwidth with neighbors. If your employee has this kind shared bandwidth service an upgrade is all but guaranteed to be required right now.
If your employee’s connection is no longer sufficient you may need to pay for the upgrade so they can have a reliable connection to work. This is especially likely to be the case if you expect your employees to be engaged in video meetings. Video of any quality takes bandwidth. If you are not sure whether your employee will need more bandwidth, you can always let them try to see how their current connection works, for now, and add more if necessary. Your employees will know pretty quickly if there is a problem. As will you if you try to communicate through video with your employee and see a lot of buffering.
Add an Additional Internet Connection to the House
Another option is to add an entirely new connection. For example, if your employee is capable of receiving both Comcast and Verizon, and they already have Comcast, you could add a Verizon Internet-only plan (or vice versa). This way you could be certain that your employee’s connection is dedicated entirely to your work.
Add a Business Internet Connection
In addition to the traditional home services that cable and fiberoptics services provide, there are dedicated business lines you can have installed in a home. I do not know the status of having new lines installed right now. I imagine it depends on whether such activities are considered essential services wherever you are located and whether you are in a stay-in-place situation. Regardless, you or your employee can look online for options available at your employees’ homes and go from there.
Consider Mobile Hotspots
Keep in mind, in very rural areas, cable and fiberoptic connections might not be available. In that case, you will need to look into purchasing a separate plan that goes through a mobile hotspot. Hotspots can either be separate devices with their own Internet connection, or they can be through a phone or a tablet that has a data connection.
The positive thing about a mobile hotspot is, if you are paying for it, you can restrict it to use for work done for you. In addition, you can insist that no one else connects to the hotspot besides your employee. This provides a higher level of security that your employee’s wifi may not have at home since other family members are likely to be using it. The negative thing though is that mobile hotspots rarely offer the speeds of a cable or fiberoptics connection.
Regardless, if you need to look into a hotspot, go to your own cell phone provider and see what they offer. You can also look for standalone plans, but you may find you can get a discount if you simply add something on to your provider. You will need to buy a separate device, often called a MiFi (that is a brand name for a specific company), and the plan to support the data connectivity.
Add a Hotspot to your Employee’s Plan
If your employees have cell phones you may be able to add hotspot functionality to their plan. This will require you to subsidize the cost of whatever the additional price is in order to provide enough data for your employees to do the necessary work. Obviously, in that case, you will not have the level of control you would over a device you purchase and provide.
Securing the Internet Connection
Whatever connection you and your employees decide to use, it is critical that the connection is properly secured. In the old days, setting up and securing a router/cable modem took some work. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. There are many different steps you can take to secure your Internet connection. You may consider doing some or all of these.
A Note About Ethernet v WIFI
Wired connections are always more secure than wireless connections. Therefore, if you really want a secure connection, put the router/modem right next to your computer and plug it in directly. Not only is ethernet more secure than WIFI, it is faster. I recognize, of course, that this is not possible or even likely in the modern home workspace.
Use a Modern Router/Cable Modem
Different routers have different levels of security. Modern routers use WPA2 or WPA3. If your router uses WEP, it is time to get a new one. WEP routers can be broken into in minutes. Maybe seconds these days. The difference between router types and security relates to the level of encryption. Make sure the appropriate level of encryption is turned on for your router. You want WPA2 or WPA3. Preferably WPA3.
Change the Router’s Administrative Password
Routers come with a default username and password so you can login and make changes. The first change you should make is to this username and password. This way, if someone gets to the point where they can access your Router’s IP address, they will not be able to just login using Admin and Password as the username and password.
Update the Firmware
Think of firmware as the operating system for your router. Like any operating system, it needs to be updated. Your router may update its firmware automatically, or it may not. Make sure yours is kept up-to-date. This article from Lifewire discusses updating firmware.
Change the Access Password
When you get a new router from your provider, it will probably have the key (password) printed on the side or the bottom. Change it. Do not make it something that is easy to guess.
Guests and Smart Home Devices Should Use Guest Access and a Different Password
I realize that you are unlikely to have guests right now, but if you do, set up a guest access point and password. Most routers have this option. This way you are not providing access to your work router to guests. This is actually something you should do regardless of whether you are working from home. You can always use the guest access and password for everyone else in your home and use the regular access for your work. By Smart home devices I mean those devices that turn on and off lights and so on.
Disable Remote Access
Remote access allows you (or someone else) to connect to your router through the Internet from outside your network. This is great for troubleshooting but terrible for security. Disable it.
Somewhere on your router is a button. If you press it, it enables a device to connect to your router without knowing the password. This is both convenient and dangerous.
Hide the Name of Your Network
When you first go to connect to WIFI you see a series of names. Sometimes you will see names you do not recognize. These belong to your neighbors. If people cannot see your network they will find it much harder to break into it. Hackers can still scan to find your network, so do not assume simply hiding the name will protect you.
Change the Default IP Address
Think of an IP address as if it is a phone number. Every computer has an IP address. Your router comes with a default address that anyone can look up on the web, if they know your router type. You can change this address to make it harder for people to connect. You will find instructions here. Of course, you need to know your router’s IP address first. You can find that by searching your type of router and IP address on the web.
Turn on the Firewall
A firewall helps protect your network from attacks. Your connection has ports. These ports can be opened or close. They also can be configured to let in certain types of traffic and keep out others. Computers come with firewalls these days, but you can add more security. You should consider doing so in a work at home scenario. Firewalls can be software or hardware based. Some malware protection includes software based firewalls. You can look for a hardware firewall on Amazon or on any number of sites. Do your research before you buy.
Use MAC Authentication
MAC authentication limits what devices can connect to your router. This is actually a surprisingly controversial piece of advice. Some would tell you that turning this on is just a waste of time. The reason is that the addresses can be faked and so this kind of authentication might give a false sense of security. You may or may not find it worth your time.
Add a VPN
VPN stands for virtual private network. There are both hardware and software VPNs. You might use one type of VPN to connect to your work computer from home. I am writing about the other type. This type of VPN encrypts the content as it travels through WIFI. Normally, I recommend VPNS if you want to use a WIFI connection at a hotel or a coffee shop. I like NordVPN, but there are many options. They are not particularly expensive. Stay away from the free ones and make sure you do your research. You can use the same VPN on all of your devices, that is they work equally well on computers, tablets, and phones.
Think About Your Router’s Location
People sometimes brag about how they can use their WIFI to connect from anywhere on their property. That is great if you want to sit by the pool and work, but no so good when people are driving around trying to hack in to your system. Locate your router so that the signal is limited outside your home, if you can.
Use Malware Protection
Every device you use should have malware protection on it. This malware protection should be kept up-to-date. Yes, this includes Macs, phones, and tablets. You can buy one service that you can use across devices. Most free malware protection is not enough. You want something that protects you both when you are opening files and surfing the net. Many forms of Malware protection now prevent cameras and microphones from being access without your specific approval, so this adds more security. Just do some research before you buy.
How to Make All these Changes
I have provided a lot of suggestions for securing your router, but virtually no instructions. This is because every router is different and you will need to look up your specific router to figure out how to do each of these things. You can find general instructions in articles such as this one from PC Magazine. This article from Lifehacker also has some tips. You can also search online for your exact type of router and for the changes you want to make.
Don’t Brick Your Router
Keep in mind, some of these changes, if you do them incorrectly, can mess up your connection. Do not make changes you are uncomfortable making in the name of security, just to end up losing connectivity. If you are not certain how to make changes and research doesn’t help you, contact an IT professional or your Internet provider. The positive thing is, if you make your connection inaccessible, you can normally reset your router back to its factory settings and regain access.
Where Should You Start?
It is not necessary to implement each and every change I listed here. If you want to start somewhere, I recommend these changes:
- Make sure you are using a modern router and that its firmware is up-to-date
- Change router administrative login information
- Use malware protection on all devices
- Change access password
- Change access name
The first step to a secure work- from-home environment is a solid Internet connection with properly secured devices and routers. Make sure you provide your employees, and yourself, what they need to be effective from home. The last thing you want is a slow Internet connection that makes it difficult and frustrating. Spend the money, even in these difficult times, so that you and your employees can be efficient in their work. And make sure, whatever connection you and they use, that it is properly secure.
The weakest point for security is normally the work-from-home or work-while-traveling environment. Take the steps to educate your employees and yourself on security. In addition, if you need help, many IT services are providing remote assistance now. Look for someone who can work with you and help you choose and secure your network, if necessary.