Blog: Consumer Advice
Homeworking vs Homeschooling. The cyber challenge
March 2020 was a significant challenge. We were propelled into lockdown. From happily working in an office I had to switch to working from home.
Previously I had always looked at my home as exactly that, a home. A place to relax and spend time as a family. Never did I expect to be spending every day working there, but that wasn’t all that lockdown threw at us. With schools closing I was also thrown in the deep end having to become a teacher to my primary school aged children.
Juggling work, homeschooling, keeping children busy, and maintaining a home has been difficult for everyone. One thing that I hadn’t factored in was seeing my house in a completely different way. I had to view it in terms of threat, risk and security.
Whilst some people have the luxury of a home office, I don’t. I needed to be sure I was close enough to the kids to help and support, yet I also needed to have distinct space to work privately.
Prying eyes and webcams
This left me with two options. The dining table comfortably sits four of us, but two of the seats have their back to a big window, where onlookers on the path outside can see right in. That was a risk that I had never considered before. So, whilst sitting at the table made the most sense for the family, it just wouldn’t work in terms of security.
I often have sensitive documents open, so being sat with my back to the window could allow anyone to see that data. A screen privacy filter reduces the viewing angle, but only so much. It’s a small risk, but a risk that I didn’t want to take.
The second seating option was the kids at the breakfast bar, with their backs to me while I sat at the dining table facing out of the window. Perfect, no onlookers. However, this also swiftly unraveled on the first morning during registration. I got up to help the little one with his laptop and realised that my laptop screen was in direct view of their webcam.
Both children had to do registration twice a day with ad-hoc live lessons in the middle, all with webcams on. Usually this would be fine as my body would be blocking the screen, but then I started thinking about the what-ifs:
- What if one of these coincided with taking a delivery?
- What if I got up in a rush and forgot to lock my screen? We have the best intentions, but having children around can demand an instant change of focus
There were also the unknowns:
- Who was on the other end of the zoom call: parents are likely to be sat next to their kids watching the screen.
- Are the sessions being recorded and who are those recordings available to?
I have a heap of sensitive documents that I’d hate to accidentally leak by a recorded registration session. What a rubbish way to disclose information.
After finding a sensible middle ground by moving the dining room table around, it was possible to mitigate these risks. That was until my first conversation with a client about some relatively sensitive matters. This was of course now over Teams and of course halfway through it, my 9-year-old joined a live lesson. Now instead of a physical spy on the path outside or webcam, there was an audio bug in the house too.
My child didn’t think of these risks, nor would I expect them to at that age, so when they heard it was their turn to read they put on the microphone, oblivious to the sensitive stuff their mum was dealing with. Fortunately, I was using a headset and nothing of value was overhead, but I quickly ended my Teams call anyway. It could easily have been different, so I began arranging my calls between live school lessons.
There were days with no issues and we were all able to coexist happily, but some days juggling everything including privacy was difficult. I’ve lost count of the number of parents private work calls I’ve overheard through the classroom sessions.
There was certainly information that I shouldn’t have been privy to. It seems that not all employers got to thinking about cyber security and privacy in the home. It was such an upheaval for so many that privacy and security often came second, after simply enabling much of the UK to work remotely.
After a year of being constantly on edge, checking everyone was muted before making calls, making sure the screen was locked every time there was a knock on the door, the end is in sight.
The schools reopening has been a huge help, with my home no longer having to be a make-shift classroom and the invisible listeners being taken out of my house. Making calls to clients without checking mute statuses has made life that little bit easier.
There is now hope that life will return to some sort of normality. Luckily I have a very short commute to the office, and I can’t wait to re-build that work and home separation. I have no doubt people with dedicated home offices and children back in school will look to continue to work from home but for me getting back to the office is the goal.
Not having to pack away my workstation at the end of each day, as we need to eat dinner in the same spot will save precious time. It’ll be good to have others in the team who look after security of the ‘office’, the stability of the internet connection and having two big HD screens instead of temporary dining-table laptop and external monitor will seem heavenly.
Let’s not mention that dining chairs were not designed for office use. I didn’t have the space for my office chair at home; I’m looking forward to being sat back at that!
What I’ve learned
There’s a lot of talk about the future of work being flexible. For me, I actually want to get back to the office as it isn’t far away and I like the physical separation of work and home. I appreciate that commuting is a huge time drain for many though many will crave at least some non-Teams interaction with colleagues
If the future is to be more flexible with more remote working, we need to be more aware of the risks. They aren’t just technical risks of being connected via a VPN on my home network rather than the corporate network in the office, they’re physical too:
Who is watching your screen? A coffee shop makes for a nice change of scenery from the kitchen table, but is harder to secure. A screen privacy filter helps.
In the home, is your screen in view of your own security cameras? I won’t dwell on the security of smart home tech, as we’ve written about that plenty.
Who is watching through your webcam? We’ve all seen amusing clips of partners walking through the background of a work call in their underwear, but what else is in the background of your video? I’ve seen home offices with sensitive material on the wall behind the person I’m calling.
Who is listening? It may not be just the people sat nearby, it’s potentially also the people on the other end of Teams, Zoom and other calls. Headsets help a great deal with privacy, but even overhearing one side of a conversation give insight in to sensitive conversations.
Lock your screen, even at home. Whilst we may trust our partners and housemates, exposure of data to those who shouldn’t be seeing it is a problem. Young kids may take interest in that laptop, leading to some very embarrassing situations.
Don’t forget that locking your laptop may not mute your microphone or stop your video. Make sure to mute before you step away from your desk.
I’m looking forward to the future as the country opens up, but there’s still plenty we can take from the dark days this winter.