The internet has given everyone the chance to run their own business from anywhere, even their own homes. No longer are we locked to our local areas and subject to limited customer bases within our own neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, these benefits also come with a cost. Hackers are always looking for easy ways to score a trove of valuable data and home businesses are a prime target thanks to their on-average basic security measures.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the biggest security challenges facing your home-based business and the steps you can take to mitigate those risks.
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What Are Some of the Security Risks of Running Your Small Business From Home?
- Unsecured Wi-Fi
- Lack of a virtual private network (VPN)
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices
- Lack of physical security
- Lack of separation between personal and professional data and devices
It’s understandable. Not everyone can be expected to have a vast knowledge of network security needed to run an entire corporate network, but there are steps that small business owners can take to protect their home network. This is particularly true when it comes to your Wi-Fi, which if not secured, is an open door to your data, money, and inner workings of your business.
There are certain wireless attacks you should be aware of if you’re looking to run your business from your home:
War Driving and War Chalking Attacks
- Hackers drive around to identify wireless networks that can be accessed using a Wi-Fi scanner
- Uses standardized chalk-drawn symbols to convey the Wi-Fi details in public view
- Hackers use software utilities like Aircrack-ng for cracking into weak Wi-Fi networks
- Victims either have unsecured guest networks, weak credentials for main access points, or even outdated wireless encryption standards like wired equivalent privacy (WEP) and wireless protected access (WPA)
Rogue Access Points
- Hackers set up a fraudulent wireless access point for unsuspecting victims to log onto
- Once victims access the point their traffic is then spied upon using tools like Wireshark to inspect packets and pull sensitive information from
These attacks are quite simple for amateur hackers to learn and even easier for victims to fall prey to if they aren’t careful about how their home networks are set up.
Lack of a VPN
Even if your Wi-Fi is secure, what about the traffic that leaves your network? Say you want to take the day to work from a coffee shop or shared workspace and you have to rely on the networks of these locations. Do you think your internet traffic is safe from snoops and thieves?
If you’re concerned at all about data privacy and you’re worried about malicious actors, companies, and other prying eyes, then a VPN is a solution that you can’t go without. Otherwise, your internet traffic is left wide open for interception.
Everything is connected to the internet these days, and this rapid increase in the number of everyday devices connected to the web is what’s referred to as the IoT. It’s everything connected to your Wi-Fi, from thermostats and coffee makers to cars and doorbell cameras.
The purpose of the IoT is to create an interconnected web of commonly used items to optimize services, give users the ability to control their devices from anywhere, and provide real-time support for malfunctions. All of this is done through a stream of data collection and analysis.
While this has streamlined many of our everyday tasks, it also comes with a security cost. Many of these IoT devices were created with cybersecurity as an afterthought if it was even considered at all.
This lack of security leaves your home network potentially exposed to easily accessible wireless entry points that any amateur hacker can exploit. This is caused by insufficient encryption and authentication, weak administrative passwords, exposed ports, and outdated software.
Lack of Physical Security
Part of the battle in business security is providing the physical protection needed to prevent theft of critical assets, including laptops, servers, smartphones, tablets, and paperwork. Most businesses run in office buildings have security personnel, cameras, doors that lock automatically, safe rooms for servers, and protocols for entering the office.
Meanwhile, homes are far easier to break into due to simple locks on doors, breakable windows, a frequent lack of security cameras, and the only security personnel available are usually yourself and your family. So, as you can see, homes don’t provide the same level of security as an office building.
Lack of Separation Between Personal and Professional Data and Devices
This is already an issue with most work computers, smartphones, tablets, email accounts, and other devices while in the office and it’s only worse when working at home. We all justify using work devices for personal use or personal devices for work and, when you’re running your business from home, chances are it’s even worse.
While this isn’t always a bad thing when you have the security infrastructure to protect your sensitive business data, this mixing comes with many potential risks, including:
- Storing sensitive business data on personal storage like cloud drives, external hard drives, and thumb drives
- Accessing sensitive data on unprotected personal devices
- Sensitive work data is lost on a crashed personal device
Even with protections in place, it’s still a best practice to avoid mixing your personal and professional uses of business assets.
What Precautions Should You Take to Protect Your Home Business?
- Ensure your Wi-Fi is secure
- Use a VPN
- Secure your IoT devices
- Install physical security systems
- Use designated devices and services for personal and professional
Based on these five risks, here are five corresponding actions you can take to protect your home-based business.
Ensure Your Wi-Fi Is Secure
If you haven’t thought about Wi-Fi security until today, it’s not too late to start. First off, an important component to a secure home network is the age of your modem and router.
The average lifespan of a modem is around five years, while routers last around three to four years. You’ll be able to tell one or the other is at the end of its run by the slower speeds and dropped connections while using it.
Even if you aren’t experiencing the symptoms of an old modem or router, once you reach those points your devices might start falling behind in firmware updates. This leaves your hardware exposed to new attacks that you aren’t prepared for.
Secondly, you should ensure that your Wi-Fi encryption standards are up to date as well. WEP/WPA standards are old and vulnerable to simple brute force attacks, leaving your Wi-Fi networks exposed. You’ll want to ensure you’re either using:
WPA2: Better than nothing, but now hackable
- The strongest wireless encryption standard
- Advanced encryption standard (AES) Encryption
- Key size = Up to 256 bits
WPA3: Recommended (for now)
- All WPA3-enabled devices use the latest security methods
- Requires the use of protected management frames (PMF)
- Uses simultaneous authentication of equals (SAE) to prevent brute force attacks
I’d recommend only using WPA3 if available but, if not, WPA2 will do until the alternative presents itself with a newer router. This can be set up easily in your wireless settings.
Use a VPN To Protect Your Home
Chances are you’ve heard the acronym “VPN” thrown around a lot recently. If you aren’t familiar with what they’re or how they work, a VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for traffic to pass through that outside eyes can’t intercept and manipulate. Think of it like an underground tunnel that only you can access and no one else can see for your internet traffic.
While a VPN won’t protect you from every cyber threat out there, it’ll safeguard your traffic from those looking to intercept your traffic once it leaves your network or while using public Wi-Fi. If you need help selecting a VPN for your business, we’ve compiled a list of the best VPN services on the market, complete with reviews and insights.
Secure Your IoT Devices
Despite the security risks, there are simple steps you can take to secure your IoT devices. Updating the passwords for accessing these devices is the most obvious and easiest of these steps. If you aren’t sure what makes for a secure password, here are a few pointers:
- Incorporate symbols and punctuation
- Use capitalizations
- Add spaces ― yes, you can do this
- Mix numbers into your password
If you need to find out whether your passwords are secure, you can use a password security checker to rate how long it would take to crack yours. My current set of passwords sit around 700,000 years or so to brute force, so I think I’ve bought myself a little time.
Install Physical Security Systems in Your Home
Of course, you can’t be expected to hire security guards to roam around your home at all times of the day and night.
However, there are other precautions you can take, such as locking up your router and modem in a hidden location, installing security cameras around your property, installing decent locks on all of your doors in windows, and putting valuable business assets in a secure location when you’re not around.
Additionally, outside of installing security measures, make sure you designate specific secure areas that others are meant to stay out of when inside your home, such as an office or storage area. You don’t need people, malicious or not, stumbling on your professional assets and pocketing anything.
Use Designated Devices and Services for Personal and Professional
This one is the easiest to implement. Using designated devices and services for your work and your personal life is the best way to avoid the risks of losing valuable data.
If you plan on mixing uses for devices like smartphones and similar devices, make sure you use separate services for email, data storage, banking, and so on.
What To Do Next
Cybersecurity isn’t a simple topic. There are so many moving pieces to consider when building your security strategy, even for a home-based business. This requires you to stay up-to-date on all of the latest cybersecurity software and strategies that are available.