As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, ClickAway is getting answers to your most asked questions about working from home in 2020 and especially during the coronavirus pandemic. We hear from many of you while selling and installing computer cables, extra monitors, Wi-Fi extenders, computer upgrades, data recovery and more in your homes and in our computer repair shops. These are the questions we get the most so far this year.
How likely is it that someone is watching me through my phone or computer without me knowing?
It is definitely possible for someone to sneakily watch you through your phone or computer camera while you are working from home in 2020. The probability is a different story. Attacks aimed at your cameras are more likely if you are a celebrity, a politician, or a wealthy person. However, it could also occur when someone is deeply interested in you. In other cases, you may fall victim to someone with voyeuristic inclinations.
We have seen examples in the past. The infamous Optic Nerve story took place in 2014, when Edward Snowden revealed that the British Government Communications Headquarters agency collected private webcam stills from the users of a Yahoo! webcam app. In 2019, a FaceTime bug allowed iPhone users to covertly watch and listen to their contacts even before they accepted a FaceTime call.
How can you tell?
- Watch if the LED light next to your camera is on when you are not using it. Note that a hacker can disable the light.
- Check whether there are running webcam processes or audio/video transmissions on your device (see Task Manager)
- Look for software on your device you don’t remember installing. However, these programs can be hard to spot.
- Physically cover the cameras
- Temporarily set up firewall parameters to block audio and video traffic
- Uninstall the webcam drivers
- Scan your entire device using a reliable anti-malware solution
- If any malicious software is found, get rid of it as recommended by the anti-malware program
- Reinstall the webcam drivers and disable the previously set firewall parameters
This should be enough but in case you still see the signs of spying, consider reinstalling the operating system of your device.
- Cover or unplug your cameras when you are not using them
- Buy new devices only from trusted vendors and be especially careful with second-hand devices
- Request technical support only from trusted providers
- Buy stand-alone cameras with encrypted communications
- Set strong passwords for stand-alone cameras when installing them
- Be sure to have an activated antivirus and a firewall on your device at all times
- Update and patch your devices, drivers and applications regularly
- Don’t click on suspicious links and avoid downloading non-legitimate software
Can I write my internet bill off my taxes now that I am working from home? How about when I go back to the office but still need to do some remote work?
We are not tax accountants but have general knowledge about home office expenses. To deduct your internet bill you have to determine how much you use it for personal vs business activities. For example, let’s say you watch a Netflix movie every night for the month at 4.5GB streaming each and you also do one video conference during the day that uses 500MB. you’re using 10% of the internet for work so you could allocate that way. We advise that you speak to your accountant for authorized tax advise relating to working from home in 2020.
Can my employer monitor my company provided PC now that I am working from home in 2020?
Yes, if your Company has installed monitoring software, or you are connecting to their network using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) system. Remember. It is their PC, not yours, even though you are using it for working from home in 2020. It is likely that when your computer connects, it goes through your Internet connection, but it then connects to the Company’s VPN so you can get the internal network. From that point every Internet connection request will go through the Company’s servers and firewall. There, they can see everything you do. A Company can monitor all the data flows. While most data will be encrypted, so not readable, they will be able to see domains or IP addresses and the volume of data.
My company hasn’t given me any kind of stipend for home office supplies so I’m on my own. Am I better off buying a laptop or a desktop? Are there any ways to get reimbursed for what I buy? Can I deduct all of this on next year’s taxes?
Let’s address the equipment first. Desktops typically come with larger screens and if eyestrain is an issue that would certainly be better. Personally, for many of us having a laptop means that you can find the position that’s comfortable for yourself much more easily because you can move it around. But the eyestrain issue would definitely mean a larger screen and by and large that means a desktop. However, ClickAway has installed many docking stations for laptops, connecting to external monitors, even double monitors in several cases.
As far as reimbursements are concerned, it’s best to ask your Company HR department about their policy for working from home equipment purchases. Your tax accountant can also provide input on deductions available.
Should I be more worried about data security when working from home? If I am attacked, am I liable?
It is very difficult to hack into the systems that operate inside a VPN system that has protection. This also includes using the dual factor authentication system that requires you to enter a second password sent to you at random. That being said, we all know some hackers have succeeded in getting to our data despite our best efforts. The question of liability is a legal issue and it’s important to take it up with your Company.
Can my employer require me to be tested for COVID-19 or require other medical tests?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance stating that during a pandemic, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-covered employers may ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus. For COVID-19, these include symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with ADA. EEOC has also advised ADA does not interfere with the guidance outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that employees experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. You can view additional guidance from EEOC at www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws
Can my employer take my temperature before I am allowed to work?
Yes. EEOC has advised that, generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. Because CDC and state and local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. However, employers should be aware some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.
Can my employer disclose the identity of an employee who has tested positive for, or otherwise been diagnosed with, COVID-19 to co-workers who were in close contact with the infected employee during the relevant 14-day period?
No. The ADA prohibits disclosure of the identity of an employee who has tested positive for, or otherwise diagnosed with COVID-19 to co-workers. However, an employer can provide employees with information that would help them evaluate exposure. Employers can generally identify that an “employee has tested positive for COVID-19.” They can also state whether an employee “has been exposed to COVID-19,” but the employee should not be identified.
Please let us know if you have other work from home questions. We will do our best to provide answers or at least point you in the right direction.