COLORADO SPRINGS — While COVID-19 continues to threaten the globe, computer viruses are also threatening our data, and the scammers behind them now have more opportunities to target you if you're working from home.
The issue is that many of us are now mixing personal and work data, so there's a lot more at stake if any of that gets compromised. The best thing you can do is make sure you can do is keep an eye out for suspicious emails, and have security layers in place to stop scammers before they strike.
Working from home, it's easier to leave leave a digital footprint that can later make you a target.
"You're co-mingling stuff with work with regard to 'Hey, I gotta go check my bank account. I gotta go check my personal e-mail. I'm gonna go watch a little bit of Netflix while I'm taking my break," said Alfred Ortiz, CEO of Cyber Software Distributors.
While it may seem convenient for you, it's convenient for scammers, too.
"Now you're just giving the bad guys that many more chances to try to go in and phish for data that they can get," he added.
Some simple actions you can take: Be sure to clean out your browser cookies and cache. Also, keep an eye out for phishing emails. Scammers are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to bait victims.
Phony emails could ask recipients to click a link so they can get on a benefit payroll directory, under the guise of their company's administrative team. Others may offer grants for businesses, or immediate payment for working at home.
(Here are some COVID-19 consumer warnings and safety tips from the Federal Communications Commission: https://www.fcc.gov/covid-scams)
"These people that are writing these phishing emails, or scammers, they're targeting and they're just as smart as everybody else to target what people are needing right now and they're the most vulnerable," Ortiz explained.
If you fall victim while working from home, you have a lot more to lose. You're putting your work network at risk, which could be thousands of other computers, and your exposing your personal history.
"You just basically unlocked and opened the doors to your entire house, put on all the lights and told everybody to come on in and walk through your home," Ortiz pointed out.
To protect your own cyberspace, you can even install software to act as your guard dog. Ortiz sells one called Drive Lock to his clients, which is quick to alert you when a file - or uninvited guest - tries to force entry.
"The computer knows that it's happening because that software reads it as part of your security measures," he said. "But you don't see it."
Chances are, your job's IT department already has layers of security in place for you to access your work files.
But, Ortiz says if you want to learn how to protect your personal data, you should consider asking your IT staff what they use at home. Remember, they know the security risks you're up against because they defend against them.
And if you're a small business and need some guidance, Ortiz recommends meeting with an IT professional who can walk you through the kind of software you may need. His company, Cyber Software Distributors, does these consultations for free, but he says he's also happy to provide referrals to folks who need it.
You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.