Maintaining privacy working from home during COVID-19

Working from home (WFH) has become the norm, and it is expected to stay in place until further notice. This is a blessing and a curse. Blessing, due to time saved on your commute and increased time spent with your family. Curse, the added pressure of you being responsible for protecting your organizations’ privacy. We all have smart devices in our home and carry around a mobile device designed to make our life easier. However, these devices are continually trying to be better, which means learning about you: the consumer. How you choose to interpret this is entirely up to you, so go wild. My objective is to inform and provide some tips you can follow to protect your privacy and hopefully get you to think where else might you be vulnerable. Don’t limit your thinking to those mentioned previously, but think of anything that connects and sends information to its creator :).

Mobile applications and your privacy settings (Mic, Camera, etc.) 

There are a lot of simple applications you use on your device: the most popular of the group are social media applications. These are your run of the mill bad boys innovator type: FB, Instagram, etc. Now, what you don’t know is that they listen and use this data for target advertising. I recently experienced when I was speaking to my partner about a few things that needed to be bough, most notably was lentils and oats. Later, on Instagram, I was casually scrolling my feed and noticed ads from organizations that manufacture lentils and oat. Coincident? I do not believe so. FB owns Instagram, and FB had that massive Cambridge -Analytica scandal. Also, FB revenue is mainly from advertising…..Target advertising. After some research, I disabled my microphone access to Instagram (Settings -> Privacy -> Microphone), and noticed the type of ads I see have dramatically changed. I urge you to perform an inventory of your mobile device privacy and make necessary changes. I also noticed other apps that are non-social media type apps had access to my microphone. Social media platforms have provided some guidance on privacy settings, click to find out more :

There are millions of apps in the virtual app store, some with great developers that mean well, but some apps have bugs that exposes you, and those around you. Apps place on the store does not go through the most robust review process, and in some cases, can be installed without the use of an app store. Apps on your cell phone alter many settings on your device and, without your knowledge, can be listening, recording, or just learning about you.

 Smart Devices – They only get smart by learning about YOU.

 There are all these smart devices- too many to mention, so, here are two (2) questions to ask when you are unsure:

  1.  Can voice command activate them?
  2. Can they work without the need to be connected to your home network?

 If you answer yes to any of the above questions, well, I believe it is time you revisit or modify your security settings. Investigations over the last year have brought to light many interesting findings: 

-Amazon has thousands of people listening to Alexa data(Link), 

-Facebook listens and transcribes your audio (Link), 

-Apple captures what you tell Siri (Link), 

-Google eavesdrop (Link). 

I recommend you turn off your smart device during working hours to ensure your company privacy. If this might not be possible, here are some tips:

  •  Delete History – Alexa or Google captures your voice, they store recordings indefinitely, Clear your history through your mobile privacy settings.
  • Create a Secure network – Create a separate guest WiFi network for these devices to keep them apart from your computers and other secure devices. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada recommends that the network be password protected and choosing a WAP2 network when prompted.
  • Read privacy information – Get in the habit of reading privacy information. This information will often explain to you how the information is collected and used.

Working from home is new and represents a risk that many overlook in the digital world. It is not only the responsibility of the company’s IT department, but every remote worker to ensure security and privacy.

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated.

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