Work from home
Bane or boon - to always be together at home? Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: How safe is your home network? With millions of workers shifting to a remote working set up, how can you make sure that your home network is safe from hackers and online criminals?

Shah Sheikh, a cybersecurity consultant and co-founder of Dubai-based cybersecurity company DTS Solution, spoke to Gulf News about how employees can take simple steps to secure their networks while working from home.

“You are using home internet instead of a corporate one – it does not have the security controls that you would expect at the office. Employees connecting from home are more likely to be attacked, breached or hacked when they connecting into the employer’s network,” he added.

So, if this is your first time working from home and you are unaware of how you can protect your remote connection from hackers, these are some basic tips that you can follow.

You are using home internet instead of a corporate one – it does not have the security controls that you would expect at the office. Employees connecting from home are more likely to be attacked, breached or hacked when they connecting into the employer’s network.

- Shah Sheikh, a cybersecurity consultant and co-founder of Dubai-based cybersecurity company DTS Solution

Tip#1: Use strong passwords for your accounts

One of the top tips provided by UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to employees working from home was to set strong passwords.

“Weak passwords are the easiest way for hackers to get through your system through brute forcing,” Sheikh said.

A brute-force attack involves hackers using a massive database of common passwords, and a weak password can be cracked within seconds.

Hacking
Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Stock image

Tip#2: Opt for multi-factor authentication

Even if you have a strong password, there is a chance that it can still be hacked. This is where multi-factor authentication comes into play.

According to the Australian Cybersecurity Centre, which leads the Australian Government’s efforts to improve cyber security, a multi-factor authentication is one of the most effective controls you can implement to prevent unauthorised access to computers, applications and online services.

Using multiple layers of authentication makes it much harder to access your systems, because even if a hacker is able to breach one line of defence, like guessing your password, another layer of security is in place to protect your system.

“Two-factor authentication (2FA) and two-step verification (2SV) involve an additional step to add an extra layer of protection to your accounts. The extra step could be an email or text message (OTP) confirmation or a biometric method such as facial recognition or a fingerprint scan,” Sheikh said.

Password
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Tip#3: Keep your systems updated

It is also important to download the latest updates of your system software as well as the apps you may be using for video conferencing.

Often, software updates are developed to address security issues and may new security features that protect your data and device.

Claude Fachkha, director of Steppa Cybersecurity, an international firm focussing on cybsersecurity, spoke about how VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) apps were targeted by hackers as they saw an increase in the number of users.

“You see a lot of attacks on VoIP technology, with services that offer conference call options like Cisco Webex or Zoom. Hackers are always searching for scale – the more people using the app, the greater your chances of successfully hacking users,” Fachkha, who also teaches ethical hacking at the University of Dubai, said.

He spoke about how Zoom, which was relatively new compared to options offered by Cisco, Microsoft or Google, saw a spike in the number of users after the COVID-19 pandemic, going from 10 million users to 200 million users this year. It also, then, got attacked a lot more by hackers, with half a million Zoom accounts found to be on sale on the dark web in April this year, according to news reports.

“Hackers will take the accounts and sell it on the dark web - the black market online. All the information you provide will now be on sale - your full name and email address. If you paid with a credit card to get a premium account, then your credit card information could also be there,” Fachkha added.

You see a lot of attacks on VoIP technology, with services that offer conference call options like Cisco Webex or Zoom. Hackers are always searching for scale – the more people using the app, the greater your chances of successfully hacking users.

- Claude Fachkha, director of Dubai-based Steppa Cybersecurity

Tip#4: Look out for COVID-19 themed scams

As the new coronavirus spread turned into a pandemic, cyber criminals also increased their activities, taking advantage of people’s fears and vulnerabilities.

Palo Alto Networks, a US-based cybersecurity company, identified 116,357 newly registered domains with coronavirus-related names between January 1 and March 31, 2020. Out of these, 2,022 were classified as ‘malicious’ and more than 40,000 were considered ‘high-risk’. Additionally, from February 1 to March 31, the company said that it witnessed a 569 per cent growth in malicious domain registrations.

569%

growth in malicious domain registrations from February to March this year

“Hackers also indulge in ransomware, when they want to benefit from any chance to breach your system, encrypt the data you have and then demand payment through bitcoin - which are untraceable – to give you the key to access your data once again. Sometimes, they may just send you an email on ‘information on COVID-19 infections in your area’. Because people are curious and vulnerable, especially now, they may click on the link or download the attachment and their machines get compromised,” Fachkha said.

Tip#5: Secure your router

While this may seem to be a technical exercise, by following basic steps you can make sure your router is secured.

Depending on whether you have bought the router from a service provider like Etisalat or du or from an electronics shop, you would be given the IP address, username and password.

“The problem is that nowadays, there are plenty of routers which have the default log in information when you buy them. In a majority of cases, this is not changed,” Fachkha said.

“Hackers can try to use these default username and password details and get access to the router in less than a second. Once that is done, the hacker can access all the devices that are connected to your home router, including your Smart TV, baby monitor, or any other device connected through WiFi,” he added.

The first thing to do would be to set up a unique username and password.

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Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Stock image

Secondly, under settings, the router allows you to select a certain ‘security mode’. This is the algorithm you want to use to encrypt the data flowing through the router.

“WPA2 and AES are the best settings to secure your Wi-Fi connection from hackers,” Fachkha said.

Tip#6: Lock your devices when not in use

It is much easier to access your information if other people have access to your devices. Do not leave your device unattended and lock your computer when not in use, even if it's only for a short period of time.

It is also important to not allow other members of the family use the same device. If your child plays online games on your work laptop, it is going to make the device more vulnerable to attacks.

If it is not possible to have separate devices, try to set up separate accounts which each member uses to log in.

Tip#7: Avoid using ‘Admin’ account

work from home
Photo for illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Pixabay

The profile or account that you use in general should be separate from the administrator’s account, which has complete control to make changes to the laptop’s settings and to download external content. If by any chance a hacker is able to breach your system and has complete admin access.

Tip#8: Avoid using portable storage devices

When transporting work from your office to your home, always opt for cloud storage systems as portable storage devices like USB drives and cards are easily misplaced. If they fall in the wrong hands, they can harm your computer systems with malware.

If you do have to use portable storage devices, make sure they are password protected.

Tip#9: Educate yourself online or ask security experts for help

Over and above all these tips, it is essential that you educate yourself about basic online security and if you need advice, reach out to your company’s IT support desk to know how you can secure your home network.