By Keith Fentress (President, Fentress Inc.) and Mike Jones (President, Major Security Consulting and Design, LLC)
The number of people working from a home office either full-time, part-time, or just on occasion is steadily increasing. Though there is a lot of guidance on the benefits of home offices and how to protect data needs, there is little on physical security for the home office. Having a secured home with proper doors, locks, alarms, etc., is a great place to start. But, what about the actual office itself within the home where you work?
A home office is a very tempting target for a criminal because it typically has technology that can be stolen and easily sold. Depending on your work, you could even have cash or a safe in a home office. Perhaps an even more concerning threat is someone trying to gain access to information about the company you work for, including sensitive materials that jeopardize your competitive advantage or client relationships.
Here’s an example that highlights the need for physical security in the home office. An acquaintance who was working on the preliminary plan for a new grocery store hired a contractor to install a new telephone line in his home office. The contractor installing the line was left alone in the office to complete his work, became a bit too curious, and began reading through some of the materials in the office. When the contractor saw that his town was getting a new grocery store, he was so excited that he immediately posted a message on Facebook. Unfortunately, the grocery store was still in the planning phases and had not yet been announced. The grocery store chain was very unhappy to have their news leaked prior to their public announcement.
As this example shows, a home office has all the security needs of both a home and a business. With this thought in mind, we offer the following tips for physical security in the home office.
Don’t Attract Attention
When setting up a home office with new furniture and equipment, don’t place the full boxes out on the curb for recycling. We can’t tell you the number of times we have driven past homes and the occupants have placed full boxes out on the curb indicating equipment and furniture purchases. Doing so alerts criminals to your purchases, plus it generates neighborhood curiosity and gossip. Always break down the boxes and consider taking them straight to a recycling center instead of placing them on the curb.
Outdoor Conference Calls
If your home has a screened porch or deck, it can be tempting to work outside in good weather. We all tend to talk louder when we are on the phone, so be mindful that others may be listening. You may have the best neighbors, but a contractor working on your neighbor’s house may not be so trustworthy if he/she overhears sensitive information.
Consider a post office box for company mail. Company mail that comes straight to your home can let criminals know that you have a home office. By opening the mailbox and scanning the contents, someone can learn that you work from home as well as details about the business. Using a P.O. box for your business mail is a more secure option and can be written off as a business expense.
There are now several brands of doorbells that have cameras and intercom capabilities. As someone rings the doorbell, an alert pops up on your phone or computer. Motion sensors will pick up movement as someone approaches the door, which will start the camera. You can then speak with the person through an intercom system that can run straight through your smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can ask salespeople to leave or a delivery man to just drop off a package. You can even access the app if you are away from home and still see the image and talk to someone at your front door. Such devices can let you know who is at your door before you open it.
Location of Your Office
In general, it is better to have your home office on an upper floor if your home can accommodate this arrangement. This prevents criminals from seeing your office through a ground level or basement window. Being located on an upper floor may also give you better views of cars or people approaching your home. If you do have a home office on the first floor or in a windowed basement, it is best to turn off your equipment before leaving the office so that the glow of computer screens and other equipment cannot be seen through the window at night. It is also good to have blinds or heavy curtains that can be drawn on lower-level offices so that people cannot see in when you’re working after nightfall.
Another safety feature for your home that can also support your home office is the use of security cameras. There are many brands that are designed to be triggered by motion. They can also identify common people and pets in your household versus strangers. Such cameras can alert you if someone comes into your home and the image can display right on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. You may find such cameras very helpful if you have an office in the basement and cannot tell who is entering the home.
Secure Your Internet
In addition to having passwords on your Wi-Fi service, it is important to examine where the Internet cabling comes into your home. Wires can easily be cut to disconnect security systems or to splice into your Internet so it can be used by unauthorized people. Ensure that your Internet connection is protected by hardening your wiring with conduit that cannot be easily cut, or secure your Internet connection through one of the locking network interface boxes available in the marketplace.
Another way to protect your Internet is to change your passwords on a regular basis – this is just as important for your home as it is in a typical office setting. Remember, your Wi-Fi can “leak” outside of the walls of your home. Also, regularly reboot your router to initiate router updates that could include enhanced security features.
Lockable Door and/or Cabinets
Make sure your office has a solid core door that will lock – preferably with a deadbolt – to keep people out of the office after work hours or when you are not home. If you work in an open area without a door, make sure you have lockable cabinets to store your computer and sensitive materials. Also, consider the practice of having a “clean desk” policy in your home office. Per the above example, storing your materials and papers in a locked cabinet can prevent someone from seeing sensitive information. Also, if you have children, they or their friends might be tempted to snoop through a home office, so a clean desk and locked doors or cabinets are always a good idea.
Purchase a shredder or use a shredding service on a routine basis so that sensitive work materials do not pile up in the office. A shredding machine that cross-cuts is superior to one that shreds paper in strips. Strips can be gathered and put together with glue or tape to read the contents, but a crosscutting shredder prevents this.
Don’t Just Rely on Hope
Implementing all or some of these recommendations can protect your home as well as your business or job. More and more people are working from home and the number of homes with dedicated offices is growing. However, many of these offices have little or no physical security. We like to refer to this situation as the “hope plan” for security – meaning people working from home hope they never need security. Home offices have all the concerns of a secured home plus security for the information, materials, and equipment of your business. A little bit of security can go a long way in keeping both your home and your office safe.