Personal Security Best Practices: Technology Edition

By: James O’Rell

The number of employees working from home has increased, and it is because of this growth that focusing on security has become ever more prevalent. Our lives are connected to the internet, for better or for worse, and it is important to keep your information safe. The following technologies can be used to help minimize any risks employees or companies may face. 

 VPNs: 

What are VPNs? 

Virtual Private Networks (VPN) create an end-to-end encryption to a remote server that can help keep prying eyes out of your communications, or at least keep your communications anonymous. It can also give you access to resources you’d normally only have access to on your company’s own network. 

 How do VPNs help you? 

VPNs can help keep you anonymous. When you connect to a remote server, VPNs will see the VPN’s IP Address and not yours. VPNs aren’t foolproof but they are one of many tools to help keep you from being tracked online. For example, the VPN is only as good as the party providing it. If you can’t trust the provider, then you can’t be sure your communications are going to remain private. It can be very useful when using an untrusted public wireless network. This will encrypt your data and make sure no one on the network is trying to compromise your data. 

What are some weaknesses of VPNs? 

Any traffic intercepted between the VPN’s outward facing server and the target server can still be intercepted.  

 Password Managers: 

What are Password Managers? 

Passwords are a big weakness for security. You should never use the same password for multiple accounts but keeping track of them all becomes an even bigger liability. That’s where password managers come in. They keep track of your passwords, so you have a centralized location to find them, usually secured in some way (sometimes by another password). 

 How do Password Managers help you? 

Another great feature is auto-generating passwords. Password Managers can create randomized passwords for you and input them into the browser when you get to the desired website.  

 What are some weaknesses of Password Managers? 

The inherent weakness in a password manager is that it does create a centralized location that includes all your credentials. A break-in to this manager can create a vulnerability to every account you hold. It creates an Achilles heel in your security, but it may be worth the risk. 

 Virtual Machines: 

What are Virtual Machines? 

Virtual Machines (VM) are virtual computers that run on your local machine. They generally require a copy of an operating system to run.  

 How do VMs help you? 

VMs have many uses beyond security, such as running programs not designed for the host machine’s operating system. They help keep whatever you are doing separate from your local machine and if the VM is compromised, the intruder only has access to what’s on the VM, not the rest of your computer. Usually, as far as the outside world is concerned, the VM is just a standalone machine (although there may be some tells it’s a VM, such as driver names). One item they are very good at is using a VPN that lacks internet access. This way you can access the VPN’s resources on the VM but still have an internet connection on your host machine.  

 What are some weaknesses of VMs? 

The main weakness of VMs comes from the overhead on the system it’s running on. If the machine you have doesn’t have a lot of available RAM, having a VM is probably not an option for you. Also, VMs have all the same inherent vulnerabilities of the operating system it is running on. For example, if your Windows machine has a vulnerability, your VM is also vulnerable for exploitation. 

 Two-Factor Authentication: 

What is Two-Factor Authentication? 

Many platforms have what is known as TwoFactor Authentication. This usually combines something you know (usually a username and password) with something you have (usually a smartphone or other device). For example, you attempt to log into a service with your username and password. You are then prompted for a code texted to you on your mobile device. This means you must have both your credentials and your device, thus being two-factor. It is heavily recommended to use Two-Factor Authentication wherever you can. 

 How can Two-Factor Authentication help you? 

Two-Factor Authentication helps keep your accounts/devices secure by making sure you not only have the credentials for access, but that you also possess the proper qualifications required for said access. If your username/password are compromised, your account or device will remain secure because the intruder will not have the second factor. 

 What are some weaknesses of Two-Factor Authentication? 

The primary weakness of TwoFactor Authentication is man in the middle attacks. If your second factor provides a pin when logging in and you type the pin in, your client could be affected by a virus that reports the pin to a third party and then uses the pin to log into your account. This is a rare occurrence and something that should not discourage you from using Two-Factor Authentication. 

 These are just a few of the tools available to help keep you secure. There are many other measures you can take, too many to name here. The biggest piece of advice is to be skeptical of everything, including your security technology. Always research any product you install to ensure it’s not just another attempt to violate your security. This way you know you can trust what you are using to protect yourself, your company, and your employees.