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With cyber-attacks on the rise this year, including recent ransomware attacks on a Central New York school district and library, it seems important to have a discussion about computer security.  Whether you work for a multi-national corporation, in the government sector, or for a small business, awareness is the key to preventing system attacks.  If you are using a computer to do your job you should be aware of where you connect, click, and work. 

            First, be aware of where you connect.  Modern technology affords employees the option to telecommute, making it possible for them to work almost anywhere.  If you work away from the office, it is important to be aware of where you connect to the internet.  This is because some systems (generally those that require passwords) will provide an encrypted connection.  While other systems (generally those “guest” Wifi connections that do not require a password) provide an open connection wherein any knowledgeable user can access your usernames, passwords, and other critical information over the open network.  To prevent data breaches, be aware of the internet connection you are using and inform yourself about its security features.  For the most protection consider utilizing a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  A VPN enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.

            Second, be aware of where you click.  It seems a little silly in some ways that we are still having this conversation in the year 2019 but gone are the days where internet scams are easy to spot junk mail.  Modern phishing scams (the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication) and ransomware attacks (a type of malware from crypto virology that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid) often come in the form of legitimate looking email communications.  The best way to avoid these scams is to delete the email right away.  Additionally, carefully examine emails from users that are unfamiliar to you, and never click a link in an email from a user you do not know, even if the email seems legitimate.

            Finally, be aware of where you work.  In addition to keeping a safe internet connection, be aware of your surroundings, especially if you typically work away from the office in public spaces like coffee shops, airports, libraries, etc.  Modern technology allows a hacker to quickly swipe information from your computer using the USB port or an unsecured internet connection.  Further, these spaces make it easy for hackers to obtain data from your computer simply by looking over your shoulder as you work.  This is especially concerning for those who access private the private data of others including medical, legal, or business records, but just as important for those who store others forms of private data (such as a client or customer’s contact information) on their computers. 

            Sadly, as technology becomes more sophisticated so too do bad actors trying to hack computer systems.  The best way to ensure you do not become another victim of an attack, or expose sensitive data, is to be aware of where you connect, click, and work.  Of course, it is still just as critical that you keep your computer protection software (i.e. malware and spyware) up to date and active.  Happy telecommuting worker bees, just be careful.