Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tips for Safe Internet Browsing

The Internet can be a dangerous place for those who are careless. Visit the wrong website and you can infect your computer with malicious software that will steal your data, or encrypt your data and demand a ransom for its return. We continually use the internet for our personal and business needs. Even though we are very comfortable using the internet, we cannot ignore basic internet safety rules. Here are some tips to help keep you safe when using the internet.
Keep Your Guard Up
Always be cautious about what you do online, which websites you visit, and what you share with/from others. Use comprehensive virus protection and malware protection software on your devices. Make sure you backup your data on a regular basis in case something bad happens to your device. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you are connecting to an unsecured WiFi network, such as from a library, coffee shop or other public place. By taking preventative measures, you can save yourself from issues that may arise later.

Use a Reputable Browser
Some browsers have implemented technology which checks the reputation of a website address before they allow the website to open in the browser. If the website’s reputation is bad, you’ll receive an alert from the browser. You can then choose not open the website or to proceed to the website. The best browsers for internet safety are:

Do Not Use the Browser's "Save Password" Option
A browser's built-in password manager is extremely convenient. This is the option when you enter a used ID & password on a web page, then the browser offers to save that information so you do not need to enter it again the next time you go to that website. However, this option is also insecure. This is an especially dangerous option when you are using a computer that is shared by others (at work or even at home with family), or via a laptop that may become lost or stolen. You can turn off a browser's save password option via the program's settings. If you want to save your IDs and passwords via a system, use a password protected file (e.g. Word, Excel, etc.) or an automated solution like LastPass.

Change Your Password After a Breach/Hack
A breach is when a website service you regularly use with a login (e.g. email, online banking, music or video streaming, online shopping, etc.) informs you that their system was hacked and it's likely your account ID and password was exposed. When alerted, change your password immediately and use a new password you never previously used. Actually, it's a sound practice to periodically change your account passwords - every 60-90 days is usually sufficient.

Turn on Two-Factor Authentication When Possible
Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security designed to ensure that you're the only person who can access your account online, even if someone found out your password. It adds a quick extra step to your basic log-in procedure. The user ID and password is your first factor of authentication. Two-factor authentication adds a second level of authentication to an account login after you successfully enter your user ID and password. Examples of the second factor in two-factor authentication are:
  • Answer a set of challenge questions (e.g. What is the name of your first pet?).
  • The website you login to sends a text code to your cell phone. You then retrieve the code from the text message and enter that into the website's web page.
  • Connect a FOB or a bio-metric device (e.g. finger print scanner) to your computer, tablet ofrphone.

Only Visit Secure Websites
A secure website means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted. Encryption helps to protect your data and identity from those trying to access your information while you are online. You can identify secure websites by looking for an address that starts with "https:" (the "s" stands for secure) rather than an address that simply starts with "http:". These websites may also be marked by a padlock icon next to the website address in the address bar, such as in this image:

Today, we use the internet for almost everything: We stay informed, do research, make connections, shop, do banking, play and work online. However in the digital world, internet safety should be on the top of everyone's mind. By exercising a bit of caution and being vigilant, you can stay safe and better protect your data while on the internet.

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Real Costs of Working from Home

Working in sweats, skipping the commute and avoiding office politics. For the right people, working from home can increase productivity and decrease stress. And, it can be more cost effective than working from an outside office. But, working from home does not come without costs. Let's look at some of the real costs of working from home.

Maintain Professional Relationships
When primarily working from home, you need to actively build and maintain relationships with colleagues. Make sure you see your colleagues’ faces occasionally. Instead of phone calls and email, use video conferencing so that you can see the other people and they can see you. Also, don't skip small talk. When in an office, you have the Break Room to catch up with others. When working from home and speaking to others via the phone or video, small talk will help create rapport. Plan to join a conference call a few minutes early with just that intent.

While working from home is convenient and comfortable, it can also get a little lonely when you’re by yourself day after day. At times, the solitude of working alone at home may lead to feeling isolated or cut off from other professionals. To combat those feelings, try the following:
  • Take periodic breaks - Take a walk, go the supermarket or run errands.
  • Work outside your home office - Work from a coffee shop, book store or public library.
  • Get social - Be active in professional social media sites and engage with others to promote your business and professional brand.
Stagnant Innovation
Working from home can cut you off from spontaneous interactions with others that can spark new insights. Consider scheduling regular conference calls or virtual meetings with colleagues, clients or other professionals. Engage in discussions about challenges you and they are facing, and possible ways to overcome those challenges. If necessity of the mother of invention, your necessity is to stay connected.

Utility Bills
If you have a dedicated home office, you may be able to write off some of the utility expenses, at least for the portion of your house made up by your office. See a tax professional for advice for your specific situation. However, when you’re working from home your utility bills are going to increase. You can no longer turn the air conditioner off for eight hours a day in the summer. And even if you’re attentive to turning off lights and appliances in rooms you’re not using, you will still be using your office, kitchen, bathroom and other areas of your home a bit more.

Some municipalities (i.e. New York City) impose taxes on home-based workers whether they work within the municipality or not. For example, an out-of-state resident who works from home for a New York company will owe taxes to both states. While tax credits may be available on the multiple state tax returns, you will likely need to file multiple state tax returns - even as often as quarterly. Again, see a tax professional for advice for your specific situation.

Liability Insurance
When working from home, accidents at home by you or others may not be covered by your regular home owner's insurance policy. An example would be when a package delivery person trips and becomes injured on your property when delivering a work-related package. A stronger example is if you see clients at your home office, and a client becomes injured. You need to check the coverage in your home owner's insurance policy. If lacking proper liability protection, you may need to add a rider to your policy, or even acquire a business liability policy (Important: See an insurance professional for advice for your specific situation).

Whether you have a home-based business or work for another company, you may love the idea of working from home. Before you commit to doing just that, it's important to have a thorough look at the real costs for working from home, as well as the anticipated benefits. Doing so will help you determine just how you will be able to work effectively from home.

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