Thanks to the Web, more and more people are working remotely -- from home or anywhere. But not commuting anymore doesn't mean you don't have the same security issues that your corporate-office counterparts do. Here's how to protect your data, devices and computer without an IT department:
1. Back up your data in the cloud.
It’s easy to lose all your work: One computer virus or hard-disk-drive meltdown, and your important files may vanish forever. That’s why, when working from home, backup is crucial. Instead of depending on bulky hardware, try the many cloud services on the Web. They back up new content every night while you sleep, keeping your files safe and allowing you access from any computer at any time.
"Backup used to be cost-prohibitive," says Phil Montero, founder and CEO of an online resource called You Can Work From Anywhere. But these days, many online services charge as little as $50 per year, depending on your needs. Mozy even offers certain amounts of backup for free. If you’re only backing up documents, Google Docs is another good bet.
2. Protect your computer and critical files.
If your employer issues you a PC or laptop to use at home, they'll often install security software or a Web-based security service to block viruses or bar hackers. But if you are self-employed, the burden of protecting your computer and data from the increasing array of online security threats falls squarely on your shoulders.
When choosing a cloud-based security service, be sure it protects your computer with antivirus, spyware and firewall programs. It should also constantly updates to protect you against evolving threats.
You should also limit your family members’ access to your work computer. "You have to be sure that the really critical stuff isn't made accessible to someone who shouldn't have access to it," says Jack M. Nilles, founder of JALA International, a global telecommuting consulting company. "That includes the kids getting on your computer and downloading something [harmful]."
Finally, keep passwords and ID numbers private so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
3. Seamlessly collaborate with others.
Whether you work on your home computer once a week or full time, if you need to share files with colleagues, synchronization tools can help ensure you (or your team) are working on the correct or latest version of a document. The “old” way to do this was to copy the files from your home computer onto an external hard drive, CD or thumb drive and install them on your work computer. But this process sets you up for accidentally writing over the most recent files -- and what if this external backup device you were depending on is destroyed or lost?
Cloud services enable you to sync automatically to ensure speedy backups. Or try Microsoft’s FolderShare, which allows you to synchronize files with colleagues over the Web.
There's no doubt to the benefits of Web to the home office worker. That said, you want to be smart about security issues. To really cover your bases, in addition to backing up and securing your data, Niles also says it's important to get a clear protocol from your company or clients: "We recommend that telecommuters working for a company have a formal agreement specifically stating who is responsible for what." This way, you can always fall back on the agreed-upon security plan for your best-quality work away from your IT department.