by John Nicholas

Well, here we are. Many of us will be working from home, our kids will be participating in online learning and we will have to entertain ourselves. (Netflix and Chill might literally mean that now. Of course, it has for me for years.) 

But with that comes many cybersecurity and technology issues.

The first thing to consider is your safety, not just from the coronavirus but also from cyber viruses. Keep your anti-virus software and security updates current. If you can’t remember the last time you updated, do it right now, then finish reading this when you log back in.

Read more: Unencrypted | COVID-19 scams are coming. Don’t fall for them.

You may be using your personal computer for doing your work. Keep in mind that if you download a document or spreadsheet from your company, it is the property of the company and you are responsible for its safety. With new privacy laws going into effect around the world, there are stiff penalties for breaching confidentiality of personally identifiable information. That includes anything that can be linked to an individual that will identify who they are. For example, address, phone number, social security number, email address, etc — anything that can be traced to an individual. 

That information is sometimes buried in a document beneath the surface. This is what is known as metadata. The information that tracks who opened a document, changed it and so on.

The most basic thing you can do to keep files secure is to make use of online services such as Google Docs or Microsoft 365. If your company has not yet adopted these online file sharing tools, suggest that they do and use the highest security settings. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Another big concern — and you may be experiencing this already — is a lag due to bandwidth usage. Bandwidth is the amount of data that can pass through your network connection at any given time. It is measured in bits per second (bps). A bit is one small piece of data. You usually see bandwidth represented as mbps, or megabits per second. Mega means 1 million. That means 1 million ones and zeroes are passing through your network every second. 

Most of the time, that is plenty for general email, web browsing and streaming on one or two devices. But now everyone is home, simultaneously streaming and gaming and working and chatting. This will require either scheduling of device use and usage type, or talking to your provider about increasing your bandwidth — and that will come with a cost. 

If you have K-12 or college students in your home but do not have home internet, Charter is offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi service for 60 days, including free installation for new student households. You can call 1-844-488-8395 for more information. 

Consider your daily household internet usage before you figure out what your device scheduling plan and/or your internet speed should be. 

Light internet usage: If you only use the internet every now and then for basic activities such as checking emails and browsing the web, you’ll probably fit into this category. If this is mostly what your family and you will be doing, your current package is fine, but once the streaming and gaming increase, you might see lagging and buffering.  

Moderate internet usage: If you use social media (Facebook or Twitter, etc.), or you stream music (oWow.radio or Spotify) and videos (Netflix or Hulu) a lot on your computer and your study and work requires an internet connection, then you’ll probably need a device scheduling plan or more bandwidth. A broadband plan with an internet speed of 30 Mbps might not be fast enough for you, so you may want to find a plan that will give you speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

Heavy internet usage: These users tend to be heavy gamers and streamers that spend a large portion of their time online. Some of us will have moved from the moderate usage category into this category during this emergency, and as this lingers on, we will be making more use of our online connections. Most internet plans currently have a speed of 100 Mbps. While that is plenty in most cases, if you experience lagging and buffering to the point where it is a problem, you may need to get more bandwidth.

I recommend beginning with a light usage plan and only upgrading to more bandwidth if that does not work.

One creative way of implementing a device usage plan would be to have the family all pick a movie to stream together — no other devices, just family movie time. Maybe each kid gets to pick a movie for the family to watch instead of having multiple movies streaming at once. During the day, maybe ban games and movies during school/work hours.

You could even — gasp — ban all devices for an hour or two a day and have an actual conversation with your loved ones. No sacrifice is too great during these uncertain times.

Read more: Entertaining and educating kids during COVID-19

Be patient, be creative, and we will all pull through this. We just need to adapt our lives and internet habits until we are on the other side.

If you have any concerns or questions you can email me at jbnicholasconsulting@gmail.com.

Dr. John B. Nicholas is a Professor of Computer Informations Systems and Co-Founder of the Cybersecurity Degree Track at The University of Akron. Dr. Nicholas has over 30 years experience in the technology field in both the private sector and higher education.

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