How to Protect Your Work Device in Public Spaces
Fueled by globalization and the rise of the internet, the world is more connected than ever before. Global organizations spanning cities and countries work seamlessly using technology to support working beyond borders. Remote work options are also increasingly popular, with many company bosses realizing they can trust their employees to work remotely from anywhere, dramatically cutting down the costs of running a physical office. In the 90s, remote work options were almost unheard of. Fast forward around 30 years and remote workers account for about 40% of the global workforce. With rapid technological advances and an acceptance of remote working, this is due to rise further in years to come.
Moreover, the rising trend of mobile workforces, such as independent contractors, field service technicians, or consultants, who are not tied to a specific workplace is also fueling the need to work on the go. Mobile workforces, or the deskless workforce, comprise around 2.7 billion people worldwide. They have unique needs and uses for technology and require durable machines that support their working lifestyle and the risks associated with using work devices in public spaces. Using questionable public WiFi options or implementing weak security provisions can leave laptops susceptible to hacking or data theft that can negatively impact companies and mobile workers.
Understanding the risks of using work devices in public spaces
Working from a coffee shop or library can provide a much-needed change of scenery. However, using work devices in public spaces can be risky for various reasons.
1. Physical theft
Leaving laptops or technical devices unattended, even just for a few seconds, can result in physical theft. We never know when and where professional criminals or one-off opportunists may be lurking. Along with taking physical devices, thieves also take sensitive files and company data along with them, which can put companies at risk. Although packing up a laptop or device every time we need a bathroom break or take a quick phone call can be troublesome, it is crucial to avoid falling victim to theft.
2. Visual hacking
Visual hacking is unlawfully taking someone else’s information by spying on their screen. Confidential information is everywhere — and so are potential peeping Toms. Visual hacking may occur because of employee negligence or lack of awareness about this type of low-tech method. All it takes is for thieves to set eyes on one piece of sensitive information to access work emails or compromise company accounts.
3. Unauthorized network access
Unauthorized network access is where criminals access networks, systems, or data without permission. This kind of attack can have catastrophic consequences for companies, especially if financial or secret information is hacked and stolen. Such data breaches take an average of 207 days to identify and 70 days to contain, giving hackers ample time to wreak havoc. Moreover, the average cost of a data breach in 2023 was USD $4.45 million, jumping 15% over the past three years, and causing unimaginable financial damage to organizations.
Malware attacks describe malicious software designed to damage a computer, server, or network. These vicious attacks can go undetected while hackers steal sensitive personal and company data. Some malware attacks, like so-called evil maid attacks, occur when devices are left unattended and describe hackers installing viruses that redirect account credentials and passwords back to themselves. Whether hackers inject malware into devices through viruses or other methods, the aim is almost always to steal sensitive or incriminating data to hurt others.
Physical security measures
Now we know about potential security risks when working in public spaces, what can we do about them? Although we cannot prevent criminals from stealing things, we can implement steps to protect ourselves and our devices.
1. Locking devices
Putting something under lock and key is a traditional but effective method of keeping things safe. Laptop locks prevent devices from being stolen by securing them to a specific area. One end of the lock slides into a device’s lock slot, while the other wraps around an immovable object like a table leg or a pillar. Laptop locks are perhaps visually unappealing but provide a strong deterrent for potential thieves. Acer TravelMate laptops come with a Kensington™ lock connection, allowing users to safely secure laptops to a solid object.
2. Visibility and awareness
Keeping devices in view at all times may seem like obvious advice, but it can be tempting to leave them unattended for just a few minutes while we take a bathroom break or go to collect a drink at a coffee shop counter. However, the risk of device theft really is not worth it, and it is advisable to always keep items in view. Being vigilant and avoiding hanging laptop bags on the back of a chair also prevents chance thieves from sneaking devices when our backs are literally turned. Preparing for the worst-case scenario helps us be aware of and protect ourselves from potential dangers.
3. Secure storage
Traveling for work can be exciting and exhausting, but that is no excuse for sloppy laptop security. Laptops and other devices should be safely secured when not in use to prevent theft from hotel rooms or company conference rooms. For example, putting tech devices in a hotel room safe is a great way to keep items secure while outside.
Digital security practices
Alongside physical security measures, there are also various digital security practices we can take to protect our work devices in public spaces.
1. Strong authentication
Authentication means ensuring that only specific users can access company information and resources. It is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity as hackers are fixated on gaining access to sensitive company systems and data. Authentication protects systems, data, networks, websites, and other applications from attacks. However, weak authentication processes may not adequately safeguard devices, leading to data breaches or the installation of malware.
Passwords are the most commonly used form of authentication. A strong password that includes upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters is more difficult for cybercriminals to guess. Many devices now facilitate biometric authentication using biological features like a face or fingerprint scan. To prevent phishing attacks, Acer TravelMate devices allow users to log in using a combination of biometrics sensors and credentials like a strong password for ultimate security.
Data encryption is a crucial step in safeguarding personal information. It is the process of transforming regular information into an illegible script known as encoded ciphertext, which cannot be understood by unauthorized parties. Users with a unique access key can decrypt data, reverting it to its original legible form. This provides an additional and robust layer of security and ensures that sensitive data is inaccessible to unauthorized users. Acer TravelMate laptops provide full disk encryption capabilities, offering additional data security.
3. Regular updates
Regularly updating operating systems and applications fixes bugs and protects software and operating systems against vulnerabilities. Hackers and cybercriminals take advantage of such vulnerabilities and exploit them to steal data or gain control of computers. Performing regular updates and properly rebooting computers can fix errors and shield devices from potential cyber-attacks.
Connecting to unsecured networks like public Wi-Fi may be convenient, but it can be risky. While coffee shops, airports, and train station bosses may think they are providing convenience to users, unsecured networks are a field day for cybercriminals.
1. Secure Wi-Fi practices
Unsecured Wi-Fi networks can leave users vulnerable to malicious cyber attacks. Cybercriminals can use Wi-Fi snooping and sniffing tactics which include purchasing devices to facilitate eavesdropping on Wi-Fi signals to view everything we are doing online. They may be able to see our recently viewed web pages and even information we have entered online, allowing them to steal sensitive credentials or login details. When using public Wi-Fi, it is better to avoid entering personal information and only use secure URL addresses beginning with HTTP or HTTPS. Websites with HTTP addresses are often unsecured, meaning our personal data may be visible to others.
2. Use a VPN
A staggering 80% of data breaches involve information stored on the cloud. However, employees or remote workers may have no choice but to access company information and cloud storage on public Wi-Fi connections when on the go. Virtual Private Networks, known as VPNs, are a handy way to reduce security risks. VPNs add an extra layer of protection by keeping IP addresses hidden while encrypting information. The Acer Connect ENDURO M3 5G offers SIM-free network connections with robust authentication and cryptographic strength, and built-in VPN functionality for maximum protection.
When protecting our work devices in public spaces, we should also consider implementing privacy practices to minimize the chances of prying eyes.
1. Screen privacy
Shoulder surfing occurs when attackers can view device screens and obtain sensitive information. Such attacks may be as simple as sneakily standing behind unsuspecting victims or using optical devices such as small video recorders to obtain data. Investing in a privacy screen protector helps prevent visual hacking attacks. Moreover, the Acer TravelMate’s optional privacy panel protects screens by obscuring angles beyond 90 degrees, safeguarding sensitive data from shoulder surfers.
2. Sound awareness
Aside from visual awareness, we must also be aware of discussing sensitive information in public places. Reading out private data or company passwords is an absolute no-go. If discussing such information is absolutely necessary, workers should use privacy-focused earbuds or headsets to minimize the risk of eavesdroppers.
Training and policies
Adequate staff training is vital for workers to understand the importance of implementing security practices. If workers do not know how to protect themselves and their data, they may fall victim to cyber-attacks that compromise sensitive data. Bosses can keep employees abreast of cybersecurity measures by sending regular informative emails and holding training days. Moreover, companies should develop clear policies regarding the use of devices in public spaces to minimize risks of avoidable data leaks.
Using work devices in public spaces is risky and can leave users susceptible to hacking attacks. Workers should be mindful when discussing personal or company information and never leave devices unattended in public areas. Cyber attacks may not be a result of malware or other viruses but because of visual attacks or shoulder surfing. As such, workers need to be aware of the different types of cybersecurity and how to protect themselves through training and policies. Investing in accessories such as screen protectors or privacy-focused earbuds can keep us safe from data leaks. Moreover, the Acer TravelMate incorporates a plethora of security features, making it a suitable choice for professionals on the move.
Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.