VPNs in the Time of COVID

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

In the middle of a global pandemic that upended everyone’s lives in a myriad of ways – the world of work changed profoundly. It was a huge shift. It was hard. It took some time. But, overall, companies learned that “work from home” really works. And while some companies might be heading back to their offices in the near future, many will remain remote or adopt a hybrid model. 

But working from home means there are entirely new security issues to worry about. In the physical office, we had very strong security protocols. And we had IT experts that were tasked with implementing them. 

What about our home networks? Are they as strong? How can we protect our communications? Our company information? Our partners’ and clients’ information?

Also, we are now using cloud-based applications from our smartphones, tablets, and laptops. But are these being used securely outside the safe parameters of our normal security apparatus at work? 

Home Networks Are Not Safe

According to YouGov America, 52% of us who are working from home are using a VPN. Which sounds good at first, until you consider that that means that nearly half of us are not using one at all. In fact, 30% use a VPN “rarely” or “never”! This means that we are entirely at the mercy of the security of home networks. 

It’s absolutely possible for a home network to get hacked. One common method is to guess the password. Routers often come with a preset default password that the manufacturer uses for all devices. Have all your employees changed theirs? 

Another possible issue is wardriving. Wardriving involves attackers searching for vulnerabilities in home networks while moving around an area in a vehicle, bicycle, or on foot. These attackers then use hardware and software to gain unauthorized access to the network by cracking passwords or decrypting the router. While wardriving is less common today, there are no laws that specifically prohibit it. 

Hackers can also exploit security flaws in the router’s firmware. Infrequent firmware updates leave 83% of home WiFi routers vulnerable to attack, according to a study by The American Consumer Institute. 

That’s a problem. But there’s more to the story. Even when we do use supposedly secure home networks, there are issues we may not be aware of. 

Home routers have firmware that may not be up to date. Are you updating all of your software constantly and regularly? If so, you are better than most. ResearchGate found that only half (52%) update our software within a week when updates and patches are released. 

And honestly, how many of us dread getting those notifications to update our software, which usually requires a system reboot? Most of us dread software updates, which leads to many of us not updating our software at all. 

A 2017 Pew Research survey found that 14 percent of people never update their phone’s operating system, and 42 percent only do so when it’s convenient, despite these updates sometimes containing urgent security fixes.

Working from Home Doesn’t Always Mean Working from Home

Another truth is that when we are working remotely, we aren’t necessarily working from home. Many of us work from our local cafe, library, or anywhere else where we can log into a public WiFi network. 

But here’s the thing about logging into public WiFi: anything we do on it can be seen and potentially accessed by anyone else on the network. 

It’s exceptionally easy for novice hackers to spy on anyone using public WiFi. YouTube has hundreds of thousands of videos on how to do it. 

Only a VPN Fully Protects You When Working Remotely

The simple truth is that unless you are working from your physical office on a network that is managed by your company’s IT department, your company information is at risk. This is true even when folks are working from home on a supposedly secure home network. 

And this is true even if teams aren’t working from home 8 hours a day, five days a week. It’s true even if they work a few hours or a few days from home. 

And if they do work from their phone or laptop on a public WiFi network, you can’t be totally sure who sees what they do online. 

The best way to protect your company information when working remotely or from home is to use a VPN. A VPN ensures that they can work from anywhere and you can rest easy knowing that you and your company’s data are completely safe.  

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.

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