As Americans ease back into “normal” life following the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more employees are returning to their office buildings after more than two years of full-time remote work. A recent Microsoft survey found that about half of business leaders say their company already requires or is planning to require employees to return to full-time on-site work in 2022.
Some companies are adopting a hybrid work model, which allows workers to split their time between the office and remote settings. A March 2022 Gallup Poll entitled “The Future of Hybrid Work” found that 3 in 5 employees prefer a hybrid work format over exclusively remote or on-site options. If given the choice to work partially remote, 7 in 10 employees would choose to go into their office “sometimes” (1-2 days per week) or “about half of the time” (2-3 days per week).
For many employees, returning to the office also requires a return to commuting on public transit. In the largest cities of the United States, about 12% of workers commute by transit according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For example, New York City, which has the largest public transportation system in the country, can have as many as 3.6 million subway riders and 1.5 million bus riders in a single day.
Some workers prefer public transit commutes because they have the freedom to focus on other activities, such as reading or finishing work. In fact, a global study by the International Workplace Group found that almost half (48%) of all employees spend their commute working.
However, while reviewing files or responding to emails on a commute might seem harmless and convenient, workers must stay vigilant against data breaches on public transportation. Using public internet service can open the door for hackers and cyberattacks. Similarly, hybrid workers transferring papers between their homes and the office can become easy targets for data thieves.
Here are five tips for data protection that can help ensure your confidential information remains safe while commuting.
- Do not leave bags unattended: Data thieves can easily steal unattended loose papers, laptops, cell phones, and other sensitive materials on public transit. Employees should always keep their bag close, properly zipped or fastened, and within sight during a commute.
- Use a personal hotspot or VPN: Many public transit systems offer free Wi-Fi on trains and buses. Unlike home or office internet systems, which require strong passwords and limit the number of devices on a network at one time, public Wi-Fi networks usually do not encrypt data. This allows even the most inexperienced hackers to view and steal sensitive information. While using public Wi-Fi might be more convenient at times, employees should opt for a mobile hotspot whenever possible. If cellular data is not available, employees can use a virtual private network (VPN), which hides a user’s IP address and protects data on public Wi-Fi. Many employers offer their employees a VPN as part of their data breach prevention program. Mobile hotspots and VPNs can help ensure data is encrypted and protected against hackers.
- Beware of onlookers: Criminals can view information simply by looking over someone’s shoulder on a crowded bus or train, a technique often referred to as “shoulder surfing.” Commuters should remain aware of their surroundings whenever viewing sensitive physical or digital information. They can also protect data from onlookers by using their hands or body to shield screens and papers. Alternatively, commuters can purchase a computer privacy screen that fits their laptop to help prevent wandering eyes from seeing sensitive information.
- Do not leave papers behind or use public trash cans: Leaving sensitive information on public transit or disposing of it in public trash cans expose data to criminals or the public. Commuters should keep confidential documents containing legal, financial, or health information close at all times, and wait to dispose documents until they can be securely destroyed.
- Keep papers to shred at the office: Employees using a hybrid work model might be tempted to take sensitive documents from their office to their homes for disposal. However, one of the most effective ways to help prevent physical data breaches on public transit is to shred any unneeded confidential documents at the office before commuting. Many offices use a professional shredding service like Shred-it, which helps ensure documents are securely destroyed and recycled. Practicing a shred-it-all policy or a clean desk policy, and shredding or leaving behind at work any unneeded documents prior to exiting the building will help limit data security risks on public transit.
Protecting Confidential Data with Shred-it
Shred-it’s professional shredding services help you protect your physical data both at home and in the office. For businesses of all sizes and industries, Shred-it offers one-time or regularly scheduled document or specialty destruction options. Shred-it’s trained information security professionals work closely with business teams to determine the services that best fit their needs. Employees working from home can also access professional-grade document destruction services with Shred-it’s residential and drop-off shredding options.