The Covid-19 situation has unfortunately left many people unemployed. Others were lucky enough to be able to continue working from home. However, working remotely has brought with it many cybersecurity vulnerabilities, since employees were no longer in a relatively secure office environment.
Now, some say that this is “business as usual” for larger companies. After all, they can afford to provide the necessary tools for their employees to work remotely. Small businesses may have a harder time adjusting, however.
Fortunately, you don’t need to break the bank to access your work computer from home without exposing company assets to cyber criminals. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are affordable cybersecurity options and are easy to operate. That means you don’t need to worry about training costs, either.
Are you part of a small team? Or just self-employed and need to access some work files from your downtown office? Whatever your situation, here’s what you need to know to get back on track.
Why You Need a VPN to Access Work Files
You may believe only large organizations get targeted by hackers, but the truth is that many small companies go out of business because of their lax security. A cyber attack can cost a small business $200,000 on average – well above the $100 (approximated) for a yearly VPN subscription.
How can VPNs provide secure access? Well, once you connect to a VPN client, all the data passing through your network is encrypted. Any hacker or other malicious third parties trying to snoop in will only see an encrypted data stream, which basically looks like gibberish.
Learn more: Deconstructing VPN: What Is VPN Encryption
You can safely transfer files from your office network, as well as access your work computer from home for various tasks. Refer to the following sections for the details.
Access Your Work Computer from Home: Step-by-Step Guide
First off, make sure you’re actually allowed to access your work computer from home. Company policies are always different, so consult your supervisor on the matter. If you have an IT department, ask for their opinion and permission as well.
1. Install Remote Access Software on Both PCs (Home and Work Computer)
We’ll be using TeamViewer for this guide – so download and install it on both your home and work computers. Choose “Custom installation – with unattended access support” in the installation wizard.
This will allow you to access your work computer from home without needing someone on the other end of the connection. Needless to say, your work PC needs to be on the entire time you’re accessing it remotely.
2. Set Up Unattended Access
Once TeamViewer is done installing on your work computer, you’ll be prompted to set up unattended access. Refer to the image below for details.
Click Next and you’ll be taken to a new screen where you can name your work computer and input a password for easy access.
If you don’t already have a TeamViewer account, create one at the next prompt. Alternatively, click Grant easy access in the TeamViewer app screen to create one.
If you’re already logged in, simply input your details and click Assign. This will allow you to connect to your work computer using your account, meaning you don’t need the computer ID and the randomly changing password for every session.
Don’t want to create an account? Connect to your VPN and refer to step 3 first. Otherwise, do the same thing, but skip directly to step 4. If you’re not sure which VPN to go with, check out our list of the best VPNs for 2020. For this guide, we’ve used ExpressVPN – a consistent list-topper due to their quality, feature-rich service.
Why connect to a VPN on your home computer before anything else? This ensures that all TeamViewer traffic is routed through the VPN’s encrypted tunnel, keeping your data safe and sound. You don’t want to run into a situation such as this one where the person accessed TeamViewer before connecting to their VPN, thus dropping the remote desktop connection.
3. Note Your Remote Computer’s ID and Password
If you only want to access your work computer from home once or twice, you could simply use the remote computer’s TeamViewer ID and password without an account. They will become available in the TeamViewer app screen once it has finished installing.
Note that your ID and password will be different than what you see in the image above.
4. Connect to Your Remote PC
If you didn’t create an account, you’ll need to input your remote PC’s ID and password on your home computer. Refer to the image below. Once you’ve entered your details, click Log On.
If you use a TeamViewer account, then log in on your home computer and find your remote PC in the “Computers & Contacts” section. Double click on it.
You’ll receive a security notification in the email you’ve signed up with, requiring you to authorize the computer you’re connecting from. Click on the link in the email, and you should be transferred to the TeamViewer Management Console. Click Trust.
You’ll find details about the device that is accessing your remote PC, including IP address, location, and TeamViewer ID. We’ve used an ExpressVPN server from the Netherlands for the job (thus the “NL” in the confirmation email).
5. You’re Done!
Whichever steps you’ve followed, you’ll see a connection screen similar to this:
Then you’re finally able to access your work computer from home and start sending out important emails, access work files, or whatever your business entails.
A simple VPN isn’t the only thing you need to secure your remote work environment. Certain VPN features are required for specific situations that could put your data at risk. Moreover, a VPN isn’t a catch-all solution against cybersecurity threats, so keep these following tips in mind.
Use a Kill Switch
You might run into a situation similar to this person on the PIA forums where your TeamViewer connection continues even though you’ve disconnected from your VPN. While in their case it was intentional, you may run into situations where your VPN connection drops (due to technical reasons, most likely).
In such situations, it’s good to have a provider with a VPN kill switch so your data doesn’t become exposed. During connection drops, a kill switch will interrupt all network activity until you are safely reconnected to the VPN.
Watch Out for Phishing
Phishing attacks make up a staggering 90% of all data breaches and cost businesses over $12 billion, according to 2019 statistics. In short, cyber attackers send emails that impersonate legitimate organizations (banks, PayPal, etc.) to trick people into handing out sensitive data. Login details, credit card information, and anything in-between.
For the most part, phishing emails contain glaring grammar and formatting errors. Moreover, they tend to address you as “Dear customer/ client” instead of the name you signed up with – at least in PayPal’s case.
Other phishing attacks trick you into opening malware-infected files. For example, they could masquerade malicious .exe files as .pdf or other document formats. Always verify the file extension and the validity of any email before opening any attachments. Just to be safe, you should also install some decent anti-malware software on your device(s).
Anti-malware Is a Must
While malware attacks are somewhat in decline, ransomware attacks on businesses have nearly doubled in 2019. 53% of organizations experienced business-disrupting ransomware attacks, versus 27% in the previous year.
Now, VPNs can’t protect you from malware – though there are a few which block malware domains out there. Here are some examples of such providers (that we are currently aware of):
These VPN features can be useful in a pinch, but they are no replacement for the real thing. If you want to access your work computer from home while minimizing infection risks, consider investing in some decent anti-malware for your system.
Ad-blockers Are Useful
In 2016, a number of major websites including the New York Times and the BBC were hit by ransomware attacks. How does this relate to ad-blockers? Well, the malicious code was actually injected into ads running on those websites, which attempted to exploit any vulnerabilities found on the victims’ devices.
Malvertising (malicious advertising) isn’t a new thing, and it’s not going away. All you can do to minimize these threats is to block ads with a browser extension. We recommend uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger for the best results.
Did you find this guide useful? Let us know in the comments!