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Back to school and back to work - but are we focusing on the wrong sort of virus?

Next week, children in England and Wales will be going back to school, following in the footsteps of their peers in Northern Ireland and Scotland. And it is likely, that many parents will also now start going back to their original workplace.

Much discussion has been held about the need for strict social distancing, bubbles and how children are low transmitters of the virus. How the benefits of being in school outweigh the risk of missing out on friendships, social interaction and face to face teaching. How the economy needs workers in offices to function properly (this is not a line I tend to agree with, there is no difference in me spending my £ in a local coffee shop or a large multinational coffee chain other than the local coffee shop probably needs and appreciates it more).

But in all the news stories and online chats, little has been said about how this new normal will affect ways of working and learning. Whilst many will go back go classrooms and offices, it seems that a blended approach is going to be more usual - with a mixture of working and learning from home blended with being in the same room as colleagues and friends.

This means that employees will continue to work in their home environment - often using their own equipment. And in my son's school, children will be using home provided laptops to support and augment traditional learning methods.

This brings new risks to schools and employers - how do you adequately protect sensitive data, how do you prevent the introduction of malware and viruses into your environment? A single infected device could wreak havoc on your organisation - infecting other devices, worming its way to your central servers and accessing - or preventing access - to crucial data and information.

You can't guarantee that you won't get a virus - Covid related or otherwise, but you can take some simple steps to reduce your risk:

  • Keep updated - with the latest government advice, with the latest advice from experts such as NCSC, patch and install software upgrades onto your device regularly

  • Protect yourself - wear a mask, wash your hand, use a firewall and install antivirus and malware protection software

  • Keep your distance - stay at least 1 metre away from people not in your household, maintain strong passwords (and biometric sign on) for every user and account on your device, don't click on links in emails or text messages unless absolutely certain that they are genuine

These are difficult times for all of us - and research shows that when people are stressed or working in strange environments, they are more likely to make mistakes. When this happens is not the time to berate people or give them a hard time. They will already feel embarrassed and worried about what has happened. Take some time to understand and consider the consequences - is your data at risk, could it spread to other accounts and environments? Think first, act later doesn't sit well in modern culture, but is good advice in current times. Have a checklist of questions to identify the situation and likely impact and run through that (even if only pausing for 30 seconds to do so) before deciding what action to take. This also provides time to relax down from a state of heightened anxiety and enables more measured, practical responses.

In 2016, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published it's report - 'User's Guide to Teleworking and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Security' which is well worth a read. In the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has issued guidance for small businesses and families alike

At RTG Commercial Services, we specialise in helping organisations identify potential vulnerabilities and develop robust actionable plans to fix them. We are also working remotely, have managed lockdown and home-schooling - and looking forward to going back to school. We will be taking our own advice to protect ourselves and our devices - and if we can help you, please do get in touch!

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