Now that most of us find ourselves working remotely for the first time, we must extend our professional responsibility practices into the home. Since almost all communications occur electronically, client confidentiality is of the utmost importance.
“While the technical issues can be confusing, it all comes back to the basics,” says Patrick Brown, Enterprise and Operational Risk Management VP at Lawyers Mutual. “Know where your data is located, know who has access to it, enable security settings so only those that need access have it, and have a strong password.”
And, of course, know who is listening to what you say.
Take Note of the People Factor
It may have been a minor inconvenience before the COVID-19 pandemic, but can you hear your neighbors talking through the walls? Can they hear you? Is the sidewalk close enough to your home office window that people can hear you outside?
These are questions you need to ask before discussing client information. If you can hear them, assume they can hear you and reconsider where in your house you have that client phone call.
Also, remember your family, roommates, or friends should not be able to hear your client conversations or have access to your work files.
Home Assistants Are Listening
If you have a voice-activated home assistant, such as an Alexa or Google Home, remember that it listens to your conversations and records them. Neither you nor your clients want Amazon or Google to have access to that information. Note that any other voice-activated appliance or device in your home likely has the same capability. If it reacts to your voice, it probably records it.
To maintain confidentiality of client data, be sure to have any client-related conversations in a room outside the hearing distance of a device. The Kentucky Bar reminds us it’s necessary to have a private space, free of listeners.
If necessary, turn off or disable your device(s) during working hours.
Be Careful with Videoconferencing Software
On April 3rd, NPR broke the news that popular videoconferencing software Zoom has also become popular with hackers, referred to as “zoombombing.” The problem has become so widespread that the FBI issued a warning.
While for most meetings a hack is disruptive and embarrassing, for attorneys, a hack exposes confidential information to criminals. If you use Zoom as your videoconference platform, be sure to apply security protocols to make your meeting private.
Other videoconferencing software – such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and WebEx – have business settings for tighter security. For videoconference depositions, perhaps use a company, such as Veritext, that is familiar with professional responsibility rules and uses technology designed for the legal profession.
When videoconferencing, also consider your physical setting. Does the camera pick up papers on your desk or files on shelves behind you? Most videoconference software offers features to alter your background so that no one else can view private information.
Actually, If It’s Smart, It Can Be Hacked
Depending on your level of tech savviness, you may have several smart devices in your home. All of us own smartphones and smart TVs. Several of us also own security systems and video doorbells.
The North Carolina Bar Association’s Center for Practice Management wrote a great piece on all the ways our home can be used to spy on us.
And lest we think a smart microwave harmless, remember hackers almost successfully robbed a casino by hacking a fish tank.
In Sum, Here Are 7 Tips to Help Keep Your Client Data Confidential
- Keep people out. No one should have access to client data. Make sure they are unable to listen either.
- Assistant free. Make sure voice-activated home assistant devices are not within hearing range.
- Videoconference safely. Be sure the security features in your software are enabled.
- Secure your computer. Cover your camera and mute your microphone when not in use.
- Take care with your smartphone. Many apps request access to your camera and microphone. This means these devices can spy on you as well.
- Avoid social media spies. Facebook is a great business tool and a terrible spy. Using one browser for social media and another to access your work files (i.e.: Chrome and Firefox) is a good practice.
Keep work and home devices separate. If you have smart home devices, do not install management software on your work computer.