Secure together: protecting your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

How’s working from home going? Managed to get dressed today? Fed up of seeing your colleagues’ children during video conferences?

Whether you’re enjoying the freedom of your new work environment or not, it looks like we’re in this for the long haul, so you should be doing everything you can to get comfortable and maintain the same standard of work that comes with being in the office.

That means ensuring that you remain productive and – just as important – safe, both in terms of your organisation’s security posture and your mental wellbeing.

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is allowing cyber crime to thrive, with crooks continuing to operate from the safety of their own homes, while employees struggle with distractions and new technologies.

The good news is that we’re all in the same predicament, so you don’t have to feel like you’re going through this alone.

Throughout the pandemic, we’re helping organisations be #SecureTogether, providing tips on how to stay safe and updating you on the threats you should be aware of.

Last week, we suggested ways to protect your content management systems while working from home. In this blog, we discuss the importance of remaining calm in these stressful circumstances.

Was Houseparty really hacked?

Having been confined to your home for the foreseeable future, you’re probably trying out new apps to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues.

One app that you might have used is Houseparty, a ‘virtual pub’ where you can drop in on people in your social circle to talk and play games.

The popularity of the app has surged during the COVID-19 crisis, but since Monday it has faced a string of accusations about its security.

Users have variously suggested that Houseparty is a rogue app misappropriating data or that criminal hackers have breached its systems and used the information to infiltrate other services, such as Spotify, Snapchat and online bank accounts.

Houseparty was quick to deny these allegations, tweeting that its service is secure:

The evidence so far appears to be on Houseparty’s side, with a number of experts questioning the legitimacy of these claims.

So if Houseparty hasn’t done anything wrong, why have so many of these messages appeared? The app-maker believes it is being targeted in a smear campaign, and has offered a $1 million (about £810,000) reward for anyone who can provide evidence.

If this is the case, it’s provides a valuable lesson on the panic that can spread as a result of people’s uncertainty over new technology.

Many people will be more attuned than ever to the risks of data breaches during the COVID-19 pandemic, either because of warnings in blogs such as ours, or because they are starting to dip their toes into the world of online services as an alternative to real-world, physical interactions.

While it’s obviously good to see people wary of cyber security threats, it can do more damage than good to assume that any malfunction is a malicious attack.

For one, it’s not good for our mental wellbeing to stir up panic over something that a lot of people are concerned about but don’t understand enough to be able to separate fact from fiction. You wonder how many people blindly followed the advice they saw regarding Houseparty and are now sceptical about using any app – making them more isolated and with fewer ways to stave off boredom during the lockdown.

Another side-effect of this kind of panic is that you could end up with a scenario where a service such as Houseparty suffers a normal disruption – like going offline as a result of servers unable to cope with increased traffic – and users mistaking it for a cyber attack.

It will muddy the waters on what the real problems are, and it can cause undue stress on organisations that – like you and I – are trying their best to navigate the difficulties that coronavirus has brought.

Business continuity during COVID-19

If you’re struggling to find solutions for the disruptions that coronavirus is causing, you need a BCP (business continuity plan).

A BCP consists of the processes and procedures an organisation needs in order to continue operating during a disaster and recover as quickly as possible.

You can quickly identify solutions to the problems you face with our free BCP template. This customisable document lays out everything you need to manage business continuity risks quickly and effectively.

Download now >>

How your mental health affects your organisation’s security hygiene

One of the biggest concerns that experts and the general population had regarding a national lockdown was how it would affect our mental health.

One in four people in the UK have an existing mental health condition, and forcing people to remain indoors, with only one form of state-sanctioned outdoor exercise as a reprieve, is no doubt going to exacerbate our problems.

This is an issue that employers must be attuned to, because their organisations have enough problems with dispersed workforces, empty offices and a stuttering economy. They’re probably also going to face depleted workforces in the coming weeks, either due to illness or furloughs, so the last thing they need are the employees who are still working struggling to cope.

At best, these health problems could manifest themselves as communication breakdowns, with short-tempered staff feeling the stress of isolation and an uncomfortable work environment. At worst, employees could introduce security vulnerabilities as they struggle to maintain the same levels of discipline that would be expected of them in the office.

Perhaps their attention spans will drop and they’ll send a sensitive document to the wrong person, or maybe they’ll ending up working late and, in their tiredness, fall for a phishing scam.

Their lethargy is just as likely to result in them being too lazy to think of a password for the office’s new video conferencing app, instead reusing an old one and increasing the risk of a credential breach, or maybe they’ll simply slack off work and forget to perform routine tasks that keep them secure.

Unfortunately, the circumstances mean that these risks are, to some extent, unavoidable. We are being forced to neglect two essential factors that contribute to mental wellbeing – our connection to nature and our connection to others – so we can’t expect everyone to operate with the same efficiency as they did previously.

But there are things that managers can do to help employees cope in their new remote work set-ups. Let’s take a look at some of them in the next section.

The Weekly Round-up: subscribe nowMake sure your team continues to socialise

You can consider employees’ mental wellbeing in the same way as you’d treat any other security vulnerability. You identify the risks and apply measures to control them.

In this case, there are two problems: social isolation and work–life balance.

Video conferencing technologies have proven invaluable for helping us continue to interact with coworkers, but scheduled meetings are no replacement for the everyday conversations we have with colleagues, whether it’s a quick hello when we come into the office or pass people in the hallway, lunches with the team or a casual chat as work dies down at the end of the day.

Organisations should be doing everything they can to encourage these kinds of spontaneous discussions. Employees might feel uncomfortable stopping what they’re doing to phone a colleague and talk for five or ten minutes – whether because they think they should be working or because a scheduled video catch-up has a slight air of desperation that isn’t the case when you bump into someone in the break room.

But it’s important to remember how important these sorts of conversations are for keeping up team morale – and to give people a chance to remember that they’re not the only ones going through these problems.

If you’re the kind of team that socialises outside work, you should definitely continue to do this. You might not be able to go to the pub or a restaurant, but there are still group activities to help you bond.

You might consider doing a weekly quiz – maybe even a virtual pub quiz if you want to stick around at your desk after work. Those that would rather sit in front of the TV and relax after work can download the Netflix Party browser extension to chat with colleagues while simulcasting a TV show or film.

And if your team is full of gamers, you could play any number of multiplayer online games together, whether it’s FIFA to help football fans cope with the sudden lack of sport or the new Animal Crossing for those that want to escape into a stress-free anthropomorphic life simulator.

Protect your work–life balance

All that talk of hanging out with your colleagues after work might sound great, but you don’t want to let your work life get in the way of your personal life – which should still exist even if you’re stuck inside all day.

Having time away from work is essential, even if it’s tempting to continue with that big project so you have something to concentrate on and don’t have to think about all those empty hours that come between clocking off for the day and going to bed.

Not least, you need to make sure that your personal space doesn’t become enveloped by work – which, although providing the crucial benefit of giving you something to do, will increase stress.

Some people are lucky enough to have a home office, but if you’re one of many who has found your bedroom or kitchen becoming your new workspace, you should find ways to draw the line between when the space is your office and when it’s used for cooking/eating/sleeping.

The most obvious starting point for achieving this is to set yourself work hours, and make sure you don’t stray too far from them.

This will be easier to achieve if you physically distinguish the room’s two functions. Keep your laptop and notepad and whatever else you use to work out of sight (in a cupboard, for example), and take it out and put it away at the start and end of each day.

This will help you avoid the temptation of quickly checking your emails before bed or persuading yourself to get back to work after dinner.

Similarly, you can adjust your environment to get you into a work mindset by turning on the radio or – if you don’t think it’s too tragic – finding YouTube videos of background office sounds.

One virus is enough

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a variety of security problems for organisations. We’ll continue to detail them in this weekly blog, but you can find more information on our website.

Nobody knows what the full effect of the virus will be yet, but one thing that’s for sure is that you have enough to worry about without the threat of a cyber attack or data breach.

We’ve compiled a series of solutions to help you prepare for whatever the next few weeks and months have in store.