The COVID-19 pandemic effectively changed life as we know it. From a work standpoint, it required many companies to either close their doors or turn to a remote workforce to keep their businesses alive. To get the equipment and office space they need, many newly remote employees have flocked to coworking spaces.
A larger crowd is bound to cause a few problems, and one of the most urgent is the potential for cybercrime and data leakage in these very public offices. As a freelancer or remote worker, you need to do your part to keep your client information safe, and that includes finding a coworking space that takes security as seriously as you do. Here are some things to look for in a coworking space and what you can do to keep your information safe.
What to look for in a coworking space
Coworking spaces are a genius idea for those who don’t have the necessary office space and equipment at home to adequately do their jobs. These institutions offer plenty of desks and private offices plus all the equipment you could possibly need, from scanners and printers to high-end coffee machines and high-speed Wi-Fi. It is the idea of working in an office without really being at an office. However, as mentioned, security is necessary, so you will want to do your research to find a suitable location that takes data privacy seriously.
One question that you want to ask a potential coworking space is if they have an IT team that works to keep the equipment up to date while constantly running virus scans to catch potential threats. It is a bonus if you can connect with the IT team while at the space to get help with any security concerns. There should be several avenues (call, chat, email) available if you need help.
Physical space is also important. You can have all of the high-tech security in the world, but if you have people working on top of each other, it could be easy for a malicious character to simply look over your shoulder and steal your data. Before committing to a coworking space, ask for a layout of the office and ensure that you can have the personal space you desire. If you are working for a client that needs extra security, it may be a smart idea to rent a private office within the space.
Precautions for your organization
While you must find a coworking space that has security protections in place, it is just as important that you take the proper steps on your end to protect your own company and clients, especially if you deal with big data, as many healthcare, banking, and marketing companies often do. As a start, you must have your data saved on backup servers so you aren’t only relying on the storage at the coworking space.
Whether you are a freelancer or a remote worker for an existing corporation, you will also want to have a business continuity plan in the case that a data breach does occur. This plan should include how to access your backed-up data, a list of the parties that need to be contacted in the case of lost data, and how to rebuild your business if the damage is catastrophic. It is important to remember that in addition to malicious hackers, many other scenarios can result in lost data, including natural disasters and equipment malfunctions, so have a plan for everything.
Finally, freelancers and remote workers need to go through security awareness training to learn about the newest threats and how to avoid becoming a victim. Topics should always include internet and email use, proper precautions on social media, and the dangers of sharing private information on social media.
Common sense security solutions
Enough cannot be said about the importance of protecting the data of your clients because just about any piece of personal information can be used for malicious means. Of course, credit card and social security numbers can be used to take out loans and make illegitimate purchases under your name but even something as seemingly innocent as an email address can be used to send phishing emails to other people in your network. That is why it is important to go back to the basics when protecting customer data in a coworking space.
To start, computers should always be locked when you walk away, as criminals only need a few moments to hack into your system or insert a flash drive to steal the data within. Even if you have a knack for locking your computer, you will want to have a complex password for your system and the programs within. Secure passwords must contain a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, and all passwords should be updated regularly.
On top of the password, all computers and mobile devices should be equipped with two-factor authentication. For phones, the best idea is to have a biometric requirement, such as a fingerprint or eye scan, so only the phone’s owner can access the device. For even more security, install a virtual private network (VPN) on your computer or tablet that conceals your location and encrypts your data.
Since most workers will connect to the internet in a coworking space over public Wi-Fi, it is important to be aware of scams that utilize this connection, like the man-in-the-middle attack. These are fake Wi-Fi networks set up by hackers that often resemble the real network at the coworking space, but if you connect, you are really connecting directly to the hacker’s computer and they can use that bridge to be within your network in moments. The best way to avoid this scam is to not make any assumptions. If you are unsure of the real, official network, ask an employee so you remain safe.
While security is important for the user, it is not solely their responsibility to protect sensitive data. The coworking space also has a duty to keep cybersecurity risks at bay, especially if the freelancers will be using the network provided by the facility. As the first level of protection, firewalls should be put in place to keep malware and other dangerous viruses out. The most prudent coworking spaces may be smart to block inappropriate websites and those that are known to house malware and viruses or pose a general risk.
On top of blocking unwanted websites, antivirus software should also be installed and scans should be completed daily. Any viruses that are found should be deleted and purged immediately. Antivirus software should be updated whenever a new software version becomes available, as the newest patches will protect against the most current threats.
When a business is centered around technology, having the most updated software is key. That goes for the operating systems, internet browsers, and any other applications used within the facility, so a team should be assigned to ensure everything is up to date. Finally, all data that enters the network should be automatically encrypted so it cannot be stolen even if a hacker does gain access.
Working remotely out of your home is one thing, but when you enter a coworking space with potentially hundreds of other workers, physical security becomes an immediate priority. This security starts before you enter the building. Many coworking spaces are locked except for those who have paid to be there and they will typically be given a keycard. It is important to never lose that keycard or lend it out. It is also a good idea to look behind you before entering the building to be sure that no one is piggybacking and trying to gain unauthorized access.
The admins at the coworking space can also take steps to ensure physical safety by having well-lit entrances along with an integrated alarm system if someone tries to enter without the proper credentials. The facility should also ensure that cubicles are spaced far enough away from one another so that a person cannot simply peer over the wall to see another user’s computer screen.
Another great idea is offering privacy screens to those who need them. These come in all shapes and sizes and while the user can see through them perfectly fine, anyone off to the side sees only a dark screen, making the data unreadable.
Finally, be mindful of flash drives you find on the ground or on desks. This is a common tactic that hackers try that involves putting malware and other malicious code on a drive in the hope that a victim will be curious enough to plug it into their computer. When they do, they get the virus. With all the movement at coworking spaces, it can be easy for workers to get confused and fall for this tactic. To avoid becoming a victim, never plug in any device or drive that you know doesn’t belong to you.
While most companies were thrust into transitioning to a remote workforce due to the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that this type of work is here to stay. We are all in this together and by staying proactive in the name of cybersecurity, we can all get our work done safely and securely.
About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity and marketing strategies.