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  • COVID-19: The challenges of working from home

    Posted on Tracey Capen Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    Home Forums AskWoody blog COVID-19: The challenges of working from home

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      • #2211183 Reply
        Tracey Capen
        AskWoody MVP

        Note: Here’s Patch Lady Susan Bradley’s comprehensive guide to working from home, from an Enterprise point of view. This story will appear in the Marc
        [See the full post at: COVID-19: The challenges of working from home]

        4 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2211185 Reply
        woody
        Da Boss

        Here’s the full story, due to appear in the March 30 AskWoody PLUS Newsletter:


        ON SECURITY

        COVID-19: The challenges of working from home

        Susan BradleyBy Susan Bradley

        “Social distancing” — such a simple-sounding phrase. But it’s having a titanic impact on our social and economic fabric. By any measure, we’re now living in uncertain times.

        With so many folks being furloughed or laid off, consider yourself fortunate if you can work from home. For those who can, there’s a wealth of online information on remote computing. Here are some highlights for making the experience effective and safe.

        And for all of you with kids staying home, I’ve included some information on home-learning resources.

        Businesses must rethink “doing business”

        In a typical day, we have dozens or even hundreds of face-to-face interactions with others: at work, at stores, at bars and restaurants, at sports events, and with family and friends. But as you know perhaps too well, we’ve been asked to put all that aside in order to slow down COVID-19 infections. We’re to stay home whenever possible — and to practice social distancing when it’s not. (Yes, eventually we’ll all have to forage for “necessities.” A Whole Foods post provides examples of how stores are responding to the pandemic.)

        Obviously, businesses are scrambling to roll with the changes. My email inbox has been nearly overwhelmed with alerts from other organizations describing the steps they’re taking to protect employees and customers. Don’t get me wrong: COVID-19 is a serious health emergency. But it could be a lot worse. In my opinion, all businesses should use this event as a teaching moment — a test of their readiness for future emergencies.

        COVID-19 presents businesses large and small with a wholly new challenge: quickly setting up secure systems that will allow a record number of home-bound employees to connect to company servers. Does the company you own or work for have the technology and ability to adapt? Here are some of the steps we’re taking at my office to minimize the human interaction — both with colleagues and clients.

        We started by finding ways to communicate without meeting in public — for example, using conference calls instead of gathering together in a conference room. We use InterCall, but there are numerous firms that provide conference- and bridge-calling services. (Conference calls typically require one person to dial others to add them to the meeting. Bridge systems use a single phone-number/PIN combination to allow participants to call in.)

        Want to have a virtual face-to-face meeting? There are various tools and services that enable both sound and video. It might be as simple as FaceTime on iPhones or as powerful as corporate conferencing systems. I know of a recent family gathering held via Zoom.com. Microsoft is offering six months of Teams for free. Other examples include long-time players such as LogMeIn’s GoToMeetingCisco Webex, and, of course, Skype.

        These days, conference calling has moved well beyond business applications. I’ve heard reports that some folks impacted by the San Francisco Bay Area shelter-in-place requirements are turning to Zoom-based virtual “dates.” That might seem a bit excessive, but you’d expect the home of Silicon Valley to find a technology-based solution to “hooking up.” There’s nothing like a pandemic to establish whether that potential love interest is truly worthy of your time.

        Remote computing: You need the Internet but not necessarily the cloud

        When it comes to actually getting work done from home, there are remote-access products and services for businesses of any size — even small firms that keep everything on the premise. Tools such as GoToMyPCLogMeIn, and TeamViewer let you connect to your office workstation from a home computer — no cloud needed. (They are especially useful if your office PC runs on Windows and your home system is an Apple product.) The one caveat: the office workstations must be left running and connected to the Internet.

        These remote connections are generally secure because they primarily transmit just screen data and keyboard/mouse activity. So the risk of an infection spreading from home to office is quite low. There can be a threat from malicious keylogger programs and unsecure passwords on the home machine, but a good anti-malware app and two-factor authentication should eliminate that menace.

        That said, using cloud services can make working from home faster and easier. If your company has moved all applications and files online, your workflow is effectively the same no matter where you’re currently located.

        Between those options are the remote-access tools included with platforms such as Microsoft’s Windows Small Business Server 2008/2011 or Windows Server Essentials. Smaller businesses who are still running these systems can use Remote Web Access to connect remote machines to office workstations — again, as long as the workstations are online. (Mac users can download the latest version of Remote Desktop. An MS Docs post describes how to set it up.)

        There’s also a way to bypass Remote Web Access (a form of virtual private network) and connect directly to an office workstation via an RDS Server and the Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) application on a home-based system. The process assumes you have RDS Server set up at the office and have configured RDC on the home-based system (PC or Mac). Then, by merely entering the name of the target workstation, at-home workers can create a remote connection to their office workstations over SSL port 443. Note that you’re not compromising security with an open RDP port 3389 outside your network firewall. For details on this “bypass” technique, check out my AskWoody post.

        If you have an IT pro or consultant, you’ll want to check with them as well for other possible remote-access options.

        The SANS organization has several posts discussing remote computing. One titled So you’re having to work from home … caught my eye today because it suggested, among other things, using an Ethernet connection at home and not relying on local Wi-Fi.

        For businesses who have deployed Office 365, a Microsoft post provides detailed information on ways to manage remote-access traffic coming from work-from-home staff. For example, it might not be necessary to route all connections though the company VPN. You should also read the SANS guide on online security.

        Enterprise solutions: There are even more-advanced options for large businesses. See for example:

        • The Microsoft Azure blog post: “Integrate your Remote Desktop Gateway infrastructure using the Network Policy Server (NPS) extension and Azure AD”
        • Azure Dummies blog: “Securing the RDP connection using Azure MFA for Windows 2012/2012R2/2016 with RD Gateway and NPS server”
        • A 3tallah post: “Step by step Protecting RD Gateway with Azure MFA and NPS Extension”
        Managing documents online

        If you need your clients or customers to sign official documents, tools such as DocuSign enable fully legal electronic signatures (esignatures). In fact, some of the business software I use has DocuSign built in, making esignatures an integral part of the overall document-management process. Moreover, you can photograph documents with a phone and upload the images to secure portals such as ShareFile.com, where the files can be safely shared with others.

        Home learning on the Net

        School closures have been nearly as disruptive to our social web as business interruptions. Just like companies, teachers and parents are turning to the Internet to provide at least a minimum level of educational stability. Schools are scrambling to put classes online, and many parents are trying to balance working from home with home-learning for their kids. Helping with that task are resources such as the Khan Academy and duolingo.com. Teachers are also getting creative: my editor’s daughter is posting her own YouTube videos for her students. Just a small sampling of instructional online resources includes:

        And don’t forget simple ideas such as those listed in the MCLA “Remote Learning Resources for Grades PK-2” (PDF), “Remote Learning Resources for Upper Elementary PDF, and, of course … carbon-based books!

        With the threats to our health and finances, this is truly a scary time for most of us. But I’m reminded of the trials and tribulations my parents and ancestors lived through and survived. I have, for example, family ties that go back to the 1918 influenza pandemic — my great-uncle was just 19 when he succumbed to the flu. Grandmother often talked about her lost brother and how his death impacted her. Many families have similar stories.

        I only hope we can rise to the level of inspiration shown by our forebears. And I hope you and your families come though this event unscathed. Stay safe and secure!

        10 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2211190 Reply
        Susan Bradley
        AskWoody MVP

        So in chatting with some of my fellow geeks you know what some of the biggest issues were?

        Internet.  Some of the folks have lousy internet at home.

        Monitors.  It’s hard to walk someone through the physical settings on a monitor when you aren’t quite sure where they are …. “look for a button on the right hand side…”

        Susan Bradley Patch Lady

        4 users thanked author for this post.
        • #2211191 Reply
          woody
          Da Boss

          I’m lucky enough to have fiber optic, and it’s reliable, but many times when I’m traveling the main connection is horrible. When that happens, I always try tethering to my phone. Frequently it’s much, much faster than the hotel or restaurant hot spot. If you have an unlimited data plan (IF!) it doesn’t cost any more.

          2 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2211201 Reply
        Kathy Stevens
        AskWoody Plus

        We are fortunate to have fiber optic provided by both Comcast and Verizon.

        However, I remember plunging my notebook into a Blackberry during the late 1990’s.  Caught H*** from the boss due to the cost.

      • #2211211 Reply
        OscarCP
        AskWoody Plus

        I also have an all-fiber connection (bundled TV, telephone, Internet) that, normally, works perfectly. And have been reading about the possible overloading of the Internet —  and also of WiFi within the home — by all the telecommuting of those now having to work from home and also by all the ones keeping themselves in isolation and streaming video to keep entertained. For example:

        https://fortune.com/2020/03/08/coronavirus-internet-remote-work-from-home/

        One bit of advice I have read about, on the last one, video streaming, is to reduce the resolution of the downloaded picture to lower the overall use of bandwidth, so others can get through effectively for what they need to do by telecommuting. In other words: stiff upper lip and try not to watch more videos in SVA or HD. Or, if one has movies and TV shows on DVD, watch those preferably. Like it or not, a country needs much of the telecommuting work to be done, to keep itself and its economy working for all its people as best as possible.

        One worry I have considered is what may happen now (and this, we all know, happens) when there are prolonged disruptions of Internet services, lasting hours or longer, sometimes.

        Windows 7 Professional, SP1, x64 Group W (ex B) & macOS + Linux (Mint)

        1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #2211246 Reply
        Tracey Capen
        AskWoody MVP

        Broadband performance is complicated. I’m a good test case for slower broadband. We have DSL and it comes to the farm on old phone wiring. It works well enough for the most part. Where trouble starts is too much streaming. If we want to watch a movie or TV show, the rule is to be sure nothing else is streaming, PCs and Macs are not getting updated, OneDrive and Dropbox are not trying to sync, etc. Sometimes, the problem is the local Wi-Fi. I have two wireless networks running at the same time. I used inSSIDer to ensure they were not conflicting. But when I run Wi-Fi on my notebook on one network, it takes out my Bose Wi-Fi speakers on the other network.

        And then there are things you can know. For example, does broadband speed drop when too many customers on the same circuit stream at the same time?

        1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #2211249 Reply
        n2ubp
        AskWoody Lounger

        I’ve worked from home full time since 1994, up thru 2016 for a large IT corporation as a data analyst / business programs manager and after that for myself as an independent IT Consultant.

        Having trouble helping some one setup a display you are unfamiliar with?

        Start by asking for the make and model, google that information and if you are lucky you might come up with a owners manual to download or at the very least a review with detailed photos showing where those keys are.

        My remote technical support workload has picked up over the last week. there have been two requests I could not repair remotely, a 3 month old Macbook with streaks running down its display (I’m thinking the display signal cable is wonky) and an ancient Core Duo Dell mini tower that beeps at the owner and the owner is the type that should never ever have a screwdriver placed in their hands.

      • #2211255 Reply
        OscarCP
        AskWoody Plus

        I have Verizon FIOs and, yes, resolution is very good, but it has worsened some times, presumably because of too many users downloading high-rate data, such as when streaming video. In my personal observation, this has happened very rarely, but always at times when I would expect most people to be on-line watching video. But right now, these are not usual circumstances and the article in the “Fortune”article is just one of several that comes up when googling “covid-19 bandwidth streaming loss” or words to that effect.

        Windows 7 Professional, SP1, x64 Group W (ex B) & macOS + Linux (Mint)

      • #2211279 Reply
        bbearren
        AskWoody MVP

        Arstechnica staff have been working from home for 22 years, and they had a few pointers.

        Create a fresh drive image before making system changes/Windows updates, in case you need to start over!
        "When you're troubleshooting, start with the simple and proceed to the complex."—M.O. Johns
        "Experience is what you get when you're looking for something else."—Sir Thomas Robert Deware

      • #2211307 Reply
        mindwarp
        AskWoody Lounger

        For parents looking for e-learning resources, check either your local school or library system’s websites. Both may already have lists up, for both what they natively offer and where else you can go. In addition, a great list is at http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/03/a-roundup-of-pandemic-resources/ . Scroll down past the COVID-19 links and the little bit about what libraries should be doing (this is affiliated with School Library Journal, a professional magazine), for the e-learning and general stuff about what kidlit authors and publishers are doing.

        Also, in areas where people may not have internet, schools and libraries even when closed may be doing what they can to help. I know in my county, the school system is using school buses for mobile wifi hotspots, while we do have the public wifi on during the day even while the libraries are closed (with security and local police keeping an eye on buildings and possibly social distancing). The library wifi extends throughout our parking lots. I’m not sure how many of our mobile hotspots that can be checked out, that we got via a grant, were before we closed to the public.

      • #2212353 Reply
        rc primak
        AskWoody_MVP

        In my area Comcast is copper-wire, but it has worked admirably the whole time. Zoom works very well. But other peer-to-peer open-source solutions are falling down badly. Perhaps there is Prioritizing? Throttling?

        -- rc primak

      • #2212358 Reply
        rc primak
        AskWoody_MVP

        I am having trouble Replying or Quoting posts today. So…

        Tracey Capen:

        And then there are things you can know. For example, does broadband speed drop when too many customers on the same circuit stream at the same time?

        Reply:

        There may be selective throttling of what your ISP identifies as different types of traffic. Without Net Neutrality they are free to prioritize protocols used by business videoconferencing like Zoom, and downgrade performance for non-business protocols used for gaming, streaming (except registered services like Netflix) or open-source videoconferencing, which may be using peer-to-peer protocols.

        -- rc primak

      • #2212372 Reply
        Kathy Stevens
        AskWoody Plus

        Remote Conferencing Hardware While Sheltering in Place

        Moderator’s Note: The content can be accessed here Topic #2212302.
        Please refrain from posting the same content multiple times.

        Post in the appropriate topic or forum – one forum only

      • #2212387 Reply
        geekdom
        AskWoody Plus

        As a suggestion, make sure your remote appearance is professional: clean, pressed outfit; combed hair; brushed teeth. If you’re showing background, make sure it’s presentable.

        G{ot backup} TestBeta
        offline▸ Win7Pro SP1 x64 InUse
        online▸ Win10Pro 1909.18363.752 x64 i5-9400 RAM8GB HDD Firefox76.0b2 Windows{Image/Defender/Firewall}
      • #2212639 Reply
        b
        AskWoody Plus

        Zoom’s video conferencing calls aren’t actually end-to-end encrypted.
        That’s because Zoom itself is able to access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.
        The revelation could severely undermine Zoom’s claims about privacy.
        Despite claims, Zoom calls are not end-to-end encrypted

        Windows 10 Pro Version 2004: Group ASAP (chump/pioneer)

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