Working from home has its benefits (working in your pj’s should you feel like it), but it also presents a list of problems and issues that your office counterparts never have to consider. If you have children, for example, you may need to take steps to keep your work documents safe and hidden from them. Kids are nosey by nature.
Whether it’s physical paper copies or digital soft copies, you need to keep them safe from accidental damage or deletion, and secure (especially if you deal with sensitive or confidential information).
Physical Paper Documents
Your best bet is to keep all your work documents under lock and key, thereby removing all potential for damage or little eyes reading something they shouldn’t see.
The simplest solution? Invest in a locking file cabinet or drawer. You can find multiple options and sizes to fit any budget at your local office supply (or even furniture) store. Check out Officemax, Staples, Walmart, Target, or Ikea.
If the volume of sensitive paperwork doesn’t warrant an entire file cabinet or drawer, you might consider buying a small home safe. You can easily find something small or portable, with either a key or keypad (don’t share the PIN code, and don’t choose something like your child’s birthday if you’re trying to secure it from that child) locking mechanism. Invest in something decent and fireproof to offer the best protection.
And when it comes to disposing of old or outdated sensitive documents, you might want to pick up a paper shredder, too. These are affordable and available in any office or superstore.
Paper documents are going the way of the dodo, though, so you should consider going paperless. Not only is it better for the environment, but it saves you money (no need to buy paper or printer cartridges), saves you space (no need to store bulky paper files), and saves you time (finding a digital file is much faster than locating a paper one). And digital is much easier to secure from prying eyes, too.
Purchase a good scanner (most printers are hybrid printer-copier-scanner nowadays) and digitize whenever possible. Shred and dispose of the paper original.
The easiest way to secure your work documents is to put a password on your work computer. Most of us have one already, but in order for this to work, your children can’t know the password. Even if you use a shared family desktop or laptop, make sure you create multiple user profiles rather than just one that everybody in the house uses. Create a profile that you use for work, create a secure password and keep it to yourself. That should be sufficient to keep your children from accessing your files and folders.
But you might want more. In order of complexity, here are some additional steps you could take to secure your work documents:
Hide a Folder
Both Windows and Mac allow you to hide a folder.
- Windows - First, you need to access Folder Options (find it using the Search feature). From there, click the VIEW tab, navigate to Files and Folders, and click “Don’t show hidden files, folders, or drives”. Click Apply and OK. Next, locate the folder you want to hide, right-click, select Properties, and check “Hidden” under the General tab. Hit Apply and OK. Done. That folder is now hidden (i.e. invisible). To reveal it, go to Folder Options again and select “Show hidden files, folders, and drives”.
- Mac - From the Terminal application, use this simple command: chflags hidden /path/to/file-or-folder (replacing the /path/to/file-or-folder with the actual path to whatever folder you want to hide). To reveal it again, simply use the terminal command again, but change “hidden” to “nohidden”.
It’s important to note that hiding a folder makes it essentially invisible, but it is not locked should someone manage to find it.
Password Protect a Folder
If you want additional security, you’ll need to add a password to a folder. This is possible with both Windows and Mac using the following (free) method:
- Windows - use the free 7-Zip compression program. Once it’s installed, right-click the folder you want to protect, choose the 7-Zip menu, and select “Add to archive…”. On the popup window, you can rename the folder and choose the .zip archive format, and then click “Select Password” on the bottom right. Be sure and delete the original (uncompressed) folder when you’re done.
- Mac - You can password protect a folder by creating an encrypted sparse image. Go to Disk Utility, then choose File-New-Blank Disk Image, and choose “sparse disk image” from image format menu when prompted. Next, select a size from the options available, choose either 128 or 256-bit encryption (256-bit will take longer to encrypt and decrypt). Finally, give it a name and click CREATE. You’ll be asked for a password at this point. Make sure you UNCHECK “remember password in my keychain” before you click OK. You can then drag the files and folders you want to protect to the new image, and then either eject or drag it to the trashcan to lock and hide it.
These two options work quite well, but if you want industrial strength protection, you’ll have to up the ante with a third-party program.
Third-Party Encryption Apps
These programs are free (or at least have a free version) and relatively easy to use. The provide very powerful, very robust encryption and security features.
VeraCrypt. If you’ve ever used the no-longer-supported TrueCrypt, you’ll love VeraCrypt.
DiskCryptor. Free and open-source, but only available for Windows.
BoxCryptor. Offers both free and paid versions, and prides itself on great integration with cloud storage platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box. Available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux.
There comes a time, in both work and private lives, when you want to keep certain files safe and secure from your children, for any number of reasons. Paper copies require a lock and key. Digital versions have a lot more choice, ranging from out of sight to industrial strength encryption. Pick one and go with it.