If you're new to working remotely, the chances are good that you have some questions about digital security. These questions are of particular importance if it's up to you to secure your own devices. There are a wide variety of security and privacy tools and practices that you can adopt to make your remote work experience both more secure and more convenient.
Here are steps you should take to lock down remote work.
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Putting passwords on all of your devices is essential for even basic security. With the advent of features like Touch ID and Face ID, more people are putting at least some kind of password on their mobile devices. Ideally, it would be a longer alphanumeric passcode, though six digits is more secure than nothing at all.
When it comes to more traditional computers, passwords are equally important. You want something reasonably secure (for the love of all that is good, stop using the names of your pets), but also that you can remember. Long strings of random words, separated by hyphens, commas, periods, or spaces, are one way of going about it. I wouldn't recommend a random jumble of letters or numbers, because that's going to be harder to remember. If you do, you're more likely to carry your password around with you somewhere, particularly if you work remotely from more public spaces like coffee shops.
For your other passwords, like essential work accounts, social media, banking, and more, I'd recommend using a password manager. These apps, like 1Password and Dashlane, not only hold all of your passwords in secure vaults that you can access on mobile, desktop, and the web, but they can help you create passwords that are more secure that you don't have to write down anywhere.
With a password manager, you have a single master password that you do need to know, behind which is all of your other login information. And thanks to browser extensions and mobile apps for these services, entering the specific, secure password for a particular account is simple, usually just the click or tap of a button.
Using a password manager, it's easy to create and store unique, secure passwords for all of your accounts, and they're essential tools for everyone looking to up their digital security.
A virtual private network, or VPN, creates a secure digital tunnel between your device and the internet at large. The encrypted tunnel also keeps your actual IP address obfuscated. While a VPN can sometimes slow down your internet speeds, it's an essential type of security if you hope to keep your internet traffic secure.
There are a lot of free VPNs out there, but you generally should stay away from them. In return for the service they provide, these VPNs may log your data, which kind of defeats the purpose of using a VPN in the first place, and could be an issue if information needs to stay secure. Most major VPN providers have apps for both desktop and mobile operating systems that are easily configured.
And while there are some paid VPN providers that do log your traffic, others, like TunnelBear and NordVPN have strict no-logging policies. Many of these companies undergo independent security audits in order to verify both their security and privacy claims.
Because a VPN provider can theoretically see all of your traffic, a measure of trust is necessary when using one. Be sure to do your research before you sign up for any VPN service to make sure it meets your security needs. We highly recommend ExpressVPN for it's excellent security rating.
Secure messaging apps that feature end-to-end encryption have become increasingly prevalent in recent years. They allow you to message people without having to worry about someone else, including the company providing the messaging service, intercepting and reading your messages. While iMessage is great for people all-in on the Apple ecosystem, you might be looking for something more universal.
Signal, by Open Whisper Systems, may be one of the most well-known secure messaging apps. Available on mobile devices and desktop, Signal utilizes secure end-to-end encryption to keep your conversations private. There are options to set your messages to disappear, and a new group messaging system has started rolling out that allows a group administrator to add or remove a group's members without Signal servers ever being aware of that membership.
Wire is more of a "Slack, but with end-to-end encryption" option. Marketed more to professionals and large companies, Wire offers secure group chat more in the vein of Slack than Signal, with the ability to create multiple continual groups and rooms. You've also go video and audio calling, and both desktop and mobile apps.
Browsing the web
Whether you're surfing the web in your off time or need to connect to a crucial tool for work, have a secure browser that emphasizes privacy is critical for remote employees. With the steps both Apple and Mozilla have taken in the realm of privacy, Safari and Firefox are great options for most people.
Safari, which comes with every iPhone, iPad, and Mac, has in recent years implemented a number of features to prevent you from being tracked around the web. These tools include protection against digital fingerprinting, were a site gets information about the device you're using. You can also install a number of extensions to prevent tracking and other privacy violations. More on that in just a bit.
Firefox has also upped its security game in the last several years. By default, this browser does a lot to prevent tracking using built-in tools. Like Safari, it guards against fingerprinting and other invasive tracking practices. But it also allows the user to take a more granular approach thanks to it's massive library of extensions on the desktop app. Admittedly, this flexibility isn't available on iPhone and iPad, but if you do a majority of your browsing on your desktop, Firefox is a great option.
When it comes to extensions, a number of developers provide tools to make your browsing more secure. My most essential tools, no matter what browser I'm using, are those that limit tracking by third parties. On Safari, tools like 1Blocker block trackers, among other things. If you're primarily interested in blocking trackers, I'd also suggest that you look at Better Blocker.
Particular favorites of mine are Mozilla's own FaceBook Container and Multi-Account Container extensions. These extensions, one just for FaceBook, the other for any websites you choose, create containers that isolate a site from the rest of your browser. You open FaceBook, for instance, and FaceBook container prevents the site from using any tools to track you around the web after you leave.
Note: One of the more popular extensions for blocking tracking is uBlock Origin. It's not available for Safari, but is for Firefox. Do not confuse it for the similarly-named uBlock extension. While they have the same starting point, uBlock Origin branched off from uBlock long ago. uBlock itself is now owned by AdBlock, and generally is considered less secure.
If you want something that's relatively secure and easy-to-use, I'd pick Safari. If you browse mostly on desktop and prefer a lot of customizabilty, I'd pick Firefox.
It's important to exercise some basic common sense when you're working remotely. Don't transmit sensitive information over an unsecured connection. Use a VPN when you connect to public Wi-Fi at places like Starbucks. Be smart about the services you use. Do your research, and keeping your devices relatively secure is easily doable.
What tools do you use to keep your remote workspace secure? Let us know in the comments?
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Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.