Navigating the hazards of information security in new world of working from home

OCAST interview with Crowe & Dunlevy from OCAST on Vimeo.

 

Editor’s Note: Along with my colleague Debbie Cox from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), I recently had the opportunity to interview Elliot Anderson, an attorney in the Tulsa office of Crowe & Dunlevy, about steps needed to ensure information and communications are secure in home and remote working locations. This is my report.

Back in the olden days, Elliot Anderson had only the foggiest notion what a “Zoom” meeting was. We’re talking way back there, maybe as far back as February 2020.

Anderson is an attorney in the Tulsa office of Crowe & Dunlevy, one of Oklahoma’s oldest and largest law firms. He provides legal counsel in business disputes, contract litigation, oil and gas matters, and securities and insurance disputes.

Like the rest of the business world, Anderson’s job meant that he drove to work every day and practiced as a litigator in Crowe’s office in downtown Tulsa. Or maybe in a courtroom.

Then the pandemic happened.

The Coronavirus shut millions of workers out of their offices and forced them to work remotely from home. It’s no different for Crowe and its team of attorneys and support staff.

Most days now, Anderson works from the home he shares with his wife and four children.

And he’s learned how to navigate the world of work from home and remote business meetings through platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

“I didn’t really know what Zoom was until the school sent all the kids home and, suddenly, the kids were experts at Zoom because they’re meeting with teachers, studying with friends, taking drum lessons, ballet lessons, dance lessons,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s role with the law firm also includes loss prevention and data security. So, I took the opportunity over a Microsoft Teams virtual interview to ask him about maintaining a secure working environment while working remotely.

Turns out, he’s had a brush with the hazards of online meetings through one of his children. An uninvited guest crashed one of his daughter’s Zoom meetings as she took a virtual dance lesson.

“Nothing inappropriate happened, but this was a random adult person who decided they wanted to crash the party and learn some dance steps,” he said. “I think one thing we’ve learned from the Zoom experience is not to assume that an online communication is secure just because nothing bad has happened.”

So, how do you ensure your meeting and your data is secure while on an online platform?

“Zoom was designed to be open and easy, as easy as walking into a hotel lobby and talking to someone,” he said. “But it turns out it was just about as private. Microsoft Teams and Skype are alternatives and are a little harder to access with more barriers to entry. There are definitely concerns there, and making sure you are in a secure environment is important.”

Anderson suggested an even more secure method. Make an old-fashioned telephone call instead.

“I think one thing we’ve learned from the Zoom experience is not to assume that an online communication is secure just because nothing bad has happened.”

Here are some other suggestions Anderson has for the work-from-home crowd during the pandemic:

Make sure it’s a secure environment: “I live in a household with my wife and four kids, and at any given moment when I’m conducting business online, people are walking through the room. If I’m on a phone call I have to lock the door to keep my kids out. Making sure that you have a secure environment and can control who’s in there to see what you are doing or hear what you are doing is important. If I’m on the phone at my house working on a call, I don’t just have four kids and a wife in the house, if my kid is taking a drum lesson I basically have the drum instructor in the house too.”

Elliot P. Anderson

Use a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure a secure connection: “Sometimes people will think, ‘well, it’s too much trouble to go through all that hassle of logging into my secure environment. I’ll just email this from my work account to my Gmail. I’ll work on it on my home computer and email it back.’ But the copy you worked on, on your home computer is still there if you didn’t remember to delete it and then empty the trash. And things like that accumulate over time. We all have old work stuck like barnacles to our home computer, and when the computer ages out you will give it to a kid or donate it to a church or a charity. That data that you didn’t even know was on there gets out and you don’t have control of it anymore.”

Don’t throw away documents at home: “I’ve had to remind the other lawyers in my firm a couple times, because we can’t do everything online, some things need to be printed, something need to be typed out and read. Then we generate garbage. When we generate paper waste at the office, we just put it in the shred bin and don’t worry about it. But at home, just this morning I found myself with two copies of an old document that I didn’t need. I can’t throw confidential information away in my kitchen trash and I shouldn’t put it in the recycle bin. What we tell our employees to do is keep a box or folder at home of any sort of office trash you are generating and save it there until your next trip up to the office and you can throw it in the shred bin.

Dress for success, even for a Zoom meeting from home: ‘When I’m preparing for a meeting online, I remember the words of a senior attorney who mentored me. He said ‘casual dress leads to casual thinking.’ He very much took the position that if you take the effort to make yourself look like a professional, your work is going to be more professional. And I think with an online meeting it’s exactly the same. If my plan is to roll into the business meeting at the last minute with pajama pants and a Velcro tie, well, … if I’m neglecting my appearance, I probably haven’t built in enough time to pay attention to other things, too.”

Final thoughts: “Working remotely has been a big adjustment for everyone who has had to do it. By and large, I think that everyone who has had to do this is far better at it now than they were a month ago. Even old dogs can learn new tricks. But I think it’s more important now than ever to slow down and be careful and be deliberate. When you are in a remote environment when you might be in a house with children or you might be in a car in the drive-thru line or you might be waiting your turn outside at Walmart until enough people come out so that you can walk in, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to security and be aware of who’s listening or may be able to get access to your information.”

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jimstafford

I'm an Oklahoma City-based freelance writer with interests in Oklahoma startup community, Apple Inc, OKC Thunder & Texas Rangers.

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