Is It Okay To Use Your Work Laptop As Your Personal Computer?

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
No matter how hard you might try to keep your personal and professional lives separate, there's one place where many people slip up: their laptop.
It might start small — maybe you log into your personal Gmail at work or check on your Amazon order status — but it can escalate quickly. And if you find yourself working from home — or traveling often for your job — it can seem more convenient to use your work laptop for all your computing needs.
But that comes with risks, from loss to theft and hacking, says Ebba Blitz, CEO of laptop encryption company AlertSec. It can also be dangerous to start thinking of your work laptop as your own personal device, since "we normally pay less attention to our personal devices than to company property," Blitz says.
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That being said, there are times when using your work laptop for personal means is unavoidable, especially if you're traveling for business, says Marisa Rogers, privacy officer for the Windows & Devices Group at Microsoft.
If that's the case, here's what you should keep in mind to stay safe at work and at home.
Set Up Your Defenses
Before you even take your laptop out of the office, there are a few best practices to abide by: Update your anti-virus software, have a personal firewall in place, and encrypt your hard drive. "Without endpoint encryption, data thieves can access everything that you store on the laptop and everything that is stored in the cloud simply by stealing login credentials," Blitz says. "In effect, without endpoint encryption, you're locking the door but leaving the keys on the front step."
Use A VPN
Logging into free WiFi, whether you're at the airport or in a cafe, is convenient and easy, but these networks are often insecure, Rogers says. You can still use them, but be sure you log in with a VPN, or virtual private network, first. Doing so will encrypt your connection over that insecure network, ensuring that a hacker can't eavesdrop on your work.
Your company may already have a VPN set up, so be sure to check with IT first. If not, you can sign up for a third party system such as NordVPN or Private Internet Access on your own for a small monthly fee.
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Follow Password Precautions
It's always important to use different usernames and passwords for different accounts, but it's especially important to do so if you're using your work laptop for personal uses, too. If you don't, a hacker who gets into one of your accounts can get into all of them.
"The more sets of credentials and passwords you have, the more sets of bumps it puts in the way of hackers or whoever is trying to access to that type of information," Rogers says.
Think Twice Before Going To Any Site
You probably do things online at home that you would never, ever do at work. This can run the gamut from applying for jobs to watching porn. In either case, you want to think twice before doing it on your work laptop, even when you are at home.
If you're searching and applying for another job, it goes without saying that you should do so from your personal email account. But you should really should do it from a personal device, Rogers says, whether that's your personal computer, a phone, or an iPad at home. "Businesses have different policies about the use of company devices and you may be violating one of those policies," Rogers says.
It doesn't hurt to check in with your HR or IT departments for a reminder about what their technology usage policies are.
When it comes to watching porn or heading to other X-rated sites, there's a practical reason to avoid doing so on a work computer. "From a security standpoint, porn sites are lousy with malicious code," Blitz says.
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Viewing a frisky video could open your computer up to a whole host of viruses that you do not want affecting your data. Imagine trying to explain how you got that virus to your IT guy. Awkward much.
Mind The Camera
Some people like to cover the camera on their laptop, others think it's unnecessary. Ultimately, it's a matter of personal preference.
"If you're using your computer a lot at home and you're in a common area of your house, it may not be so scary if that camera were accidentally turned on," Rogers says. On the other hand, if you take your camera into your bedroom, or a personal space, you may care more.
"If someone hacks your computer and accesses the camera, you don't want them to watch you doing late night work in your underwear," Blitz says.
Covering your camera takes all of two seconds and a piece of tape or a sticky note, so taking the extra precaution can't hurt.
At the end of the day, the safest course of action is to have a personal laptop or tablet at home. "Your employer has entrusted you with a device to do your day-to-day work, and you want to be respectful of the trust your employer is giving you," Rogers says.
Plus, having some separation between your professional life and your personal life is a good thing. You don't need to be plugged in all the time.
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