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Summary:

When working on-site, it’s reasonably easy to maintain your employer’s or client’s confidentiality. But what about security in your home office? OK, so your dinner guests aren’t likely to be covert operatives for your employer’s largest competitor, angling to steal company secrets between the appetizer and the main course. But some employers are extremely eager to ensure that remote workers are geared up to protect their confidentiality. Are you?

vaultWhen working on-site, it’s reasonably easy to maintain your employer’s or client’s confidentiality. But what about security in your home office? OK, so your dinner guests aren’t likely to be covert operatives for your employer’s largest competitor, angling to steal company secrets between the appetizer and the main course. But some employers are extremely eager to ensure that remote workers are geared up to protect their confidentiality. Are you?

Some contracts will spell out confidentiality requirements, and some jobs come with a clear non-disclosure agreement attached. But what if you don’t have a written explanation of what your employer or client wants? Here are the crucial aspects I considered in making privacy my priority.

Meet Your Employer’s Expectations

For most of us, this is more likely to be about respecting your employer’s needs with regards to confidentiality, and observing a few basic ground rules, than it is about protecting state secrets. You don’t necessarily need an in-home safe and a retina scanner on the door to your office. But you do need to view confidentiality as a basic and reasonable expectation of your employer or client, and to be prepared to respect that need.

Collaboration

Collaboration can be a double-edged sword if the person you’re working with doesn’t feel the same way you do about observing your employer’s need for confidentiality. I make sure I agree clearly, up front, about confidentiality with the people I brainstorm with. Your employers might not object to you consulting with other professionals about their project, but they’ll be suitably upset if their plans are leaked.

Organization is Key

I find that organization is crucial to observing confidentiality. Keeping all your physical documents and information together in a place that’s easily secured (like a lockable filing cabinet or cupboard) is a lot easier to do on an ongoing basis if you store all that information in some sort of logical format from the start. I try to keep all the information relating to particular projects together. It makes putting it all away safely, and knowing what’s where when I need to access it again, much easier.

Making regular backups of information and keeping them somewhere safe is also a good way to track the information you have in your possession. That way, if your laptop’s stolen, for example, you can show your employer the exact information to which the thieves may have access. Even though the thieves may be pawning your computer at that precise moment, knowing exactly what information is now “in the public arena” may help quell your employer’s fears — or give them the means to create an action plan to respond to the leak if need be.

Location Matters

Think about the places where you work, and the security risks those locations pose. Your dedicated home office space might seem secure, but how’s the security on your home network? And on your computer itself?

My office space is now part of my living space; it used to be in my guest room. So I’ve always needed to ensure that when people come over, I put sensitive information out of sight. If you have the luxury of a dedicated office, you might simply be able to close the door on it.

It’s easy to think you don’t need to set a password on your computer in your home office, but what if that computer goes missing, or someone else tries to access it? You can be sure your employers or clients will want to know it’s password-protected, at the very least.

Also consider security when you’re on the road. Maybe you’ll need a screensaver for those moments when you’re staring out the train window, deep in thought (and the guy next to you is checking out the work you’re doing for a big-name company).

Processes for Privacy

I find it easiest to set up a few basic processes that help me ensure I maintain employer confidentiality.

  • I password-protect my computer and use a screensaver.
  • I make sure my network is secured.
  • I lock my computer away when I leave it at home for any length of time.
  • I don’t work on highly sensitive pieces of work in public places.
  • I pack away all files out of sight before anyone comes to stay or I leave home for an extended period. I have a set of lockable drawers, so this isn’t a big deal.
  • I’m extremely careful when traveling with my computer (as everyone is) and I try not to take confidential hard-copy documents on the road unless I really need them.

What do you do to protect your employer’s confidentiality?

  1. Personally, I ensure my clients privacy by having no friends.

    OK, that’s only partially true but I am putting half height bars on some of the more remote windows (we live in the center of town) and a new door on the house this year to ensure it’s a little more secure.

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  2. Step One: I keep my hard drive, except the boot sector, encrypted. Even if someone snatches one of my machines they get the cool hardware but no proprietary data. Really sensitive stuff goes into a TrueCrypt volume so that people I’ve invited into my home can’t peak at it after I’ve booted the machine and entered my drive encryption password.

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  3. [...] 11 (Earth2Tech) Tunstall’s wireless monitor sends health data to your doctor (jkOnTheRun) Maintaining confidentiality in your home office (WebWorkerDaily) [...]

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  4. [...] Confidentiality in Your Home Office by Georgina Laidlaw… Whether you work from home as a tele-commuter or as a self-employed entrepreneur you need to keep your employer’s, their clients or your clients information out of the hands of unauthorized persons. Georgina has some really good tips for keeping thing confidential while working at home.  [...]

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  5. [...] Laidlaw/WebWorkerDaily: Confidentiality in Your Home Office — it’s a huge concern for many solo practitioners who run their businesses out of a [...]

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  6. Another great way to keep your home office secure is to use an Internet fax service like MyFax (www.myfax.com). Since the service allows you to send and receive even the most sensitive information online via a secure, password protected e-mail account, there will never be a chance that a confidential fax will be left laying on a traditional fax machine for wandering eyes to see when it comes in at an odd hour.

    Internet faxing can also be another solution for secure filing, as you mention, since it enables you to electronically save and store incoming and outgoing documents safely.

    Since I work for MyFax, I wanted to let you all know about our MyFax Free service that allows you to send faxes for free at http://www.myfax.com/free. Try out the service for yourself. If you are a heavy faxer, you can sign up for MyFax for as low as $10 USD per month at http://www.myfax.com.

    Thanks and I hope you find this tip useful for securing your home office!

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  7. I was sitting in Starbucks and working on a project for an important client. I walked up to the counter to order a drink and left my laptop on the coffee table. When I walked back to my work area I saw a teenager with a Mohawk dressed in 80’s style punk-style garb (with spikes and a leather jacket) sitting in my seat and blatantly reading my project information. I walked up, slammed down the laptop screen and asked him what he thought he was doing. He said he was curious what I was working so intently on. I told him to beat it before I got mad and he left. Probably not a serious security risk, but it is often hard to distinguish between an innocent nosy bum and a malicious hacker.

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