In recent years, companies sector-wide have recognised the need to adapt and move away from the traditional ‘office-first’ mentality to accommodate freelance and remote-working models. As a result, numerous firms are experiencing greater flexibility, productivity, and a plethora of other advantages for their remote workforce.
Several individuals have shifted to becoming entirely freelance while some businesses have become fully remote. As freelance and remote working is a major employee demand these days, it’s in a business’s best interest to ensure that it caters for its freelance and remote workers now and in the future.
Freelancers are still at risk of devastating cyber attacks
However, a partial or full dispersal of workforces can lead to serious cyber security risks if proper precautions and protocols are not established. From insecure transmissions of data to insufficient backups or methods of identity verification, the need for constant cyber resilience is growing by the day. Not least because the cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving and experiencing rapid fluctuations that mean bad actors can outmaneuver the most cyber-aware teams, even those with established and effective managed detection and response (MDR) capabilities in tow.
The first step to mitigating any cyber disaster for businesses with a freelance, remote or hybrid workforce is awareness and fostering an understanding of what needs to be done to prevent a complete catastrophe.
This guide will provide actionable tips on cyber protection for freelancers and how to strengthen your cyber security posture as a freelancer or a business managing remote or hybrid working professionals. By implementing the practices outlined below, companies can stabilize their defenses and create much more resilient, robust and multi-layered cyber defenses.
How to enhance your cyber defenses
Below you will find a few basic steps that you as a business leader or HR professional can instill among your team to foster a more cyber-aware and better-prepared infrastructure, however far dispersed your team is.
Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA strengthens defenses against unauthorized account access; cybercriminals may attempt to access shared business logins, systems or devices by repeatedly guessing passwords or by instigating bots to conduct ‘brute force’ attacks. Internet-facing systems and networks have common vulnerabilities with passwords exploited due to being ineffective or ‘easy to guess’. Therefore, adding MFA as an additional layer bolsters your system defenses by requesting that each user validate their login request.
MFA should be enabled where possible, across all cloud management, email, document storage, CRM and other shared systems, especially those that contain sensitive or financial customer or company information. Validating every request as authentic by either app-based prompts, SMS messages, email codes, or biometrics will significantly improve your stability amongst the workforce. Anomalies or suspicious requests can be authenticated by administrators and blocked if necessary.
For remote workers who share communal company logins, MFA adds a vital layer of protection that encourages cyber awareness and real-time collaboration. Crucial company assets and customer information can also be locked down with effective strong password policies that are backed up by MFA. Consider using valid enterprise-grade password management tools that can generate complex passwords and validate credentials via app-based MFA processes.
Avoid public or unsecured WiFi for work
Freelance and remote staff should never access secure internal systems or data over unsecured public WiFi networks. WiFi access is understandably preferable to preserve network data, but remote workers should always be cautious of connecting drives to WiFi networks that don’t ask for valid passwords or device authentication.
Man-in-the-middle (MITM) cyber attacks can materialize as a result of lackadaisical attitudes towards free WiFi networks being used when working, particularly with highly regulated firms that are prone to hefty fines if customer or company data is exploited. It’s crucial that businesses enforce acceptable use policies if freelance workers need to use unsecured WiFi for any reason.
A more proactive solution that can enable stronger company-wide security is to request workers use trustworthy VPNs when working outside their home WiFi or authorized, secure networks. Enterprise-wide VPN usage should be mandatory, particularly when accessing client or customer information on shared drives.
Proactively and regularly back company data up
Company backups are vital to have readily accessible in case of an emergency. Files may suddenly become corrupted or lost without warning, devices may suddenly stop working as they should, and cloud-based servers could experience unexpectedly longer periods of downtime.
This is where backups stored on native servers can come in handy, mitigating any risks of potential hardware failure. Backups of core systems and company files should be readily accessible via an internal local server accessible via a VPN before being rolled out onto a shared drive or server in the cloud. It’s always preferable to ensure that staff are aware of how to use reputable backup solutions to protect any files stored locally.
Backups should be air-gapped, secured by additional methods of encryption, and tested regularly to ensure they are reliable and valid should a disaster recovery operation mandate them.
Providing ongoing security awareness training
Even if freelance and remote workers have exhibited strong technical abilities and commitment, they represent a security risk if they lack cyber hygiene and awareness. Humans are statistically the most common entry point for malicious actors initiating breaches or hacks on company systems through phishing or calculated social engineering tactics.
Therefore, providing ongoing education and refresher training is crucial for all staff regardless of their experience levels and seniority. Consider enrolling remote workers in baseline cyber security training at the start of their employment, with regular refresher courses sent out every year. Ensure that training covers risks like public WiFi usage, weak and reused passwords, improper device security and recognising social engineering and phishing attacks.
Make sure to adapt and tailor your company’s training, guidance and cyber policies to give all freelance and remote workers the best possible foundational knowledge to mitigate all of their most likely day-to-day risks. In time, it’s crucial to build a culture of security awareness amongst your team members who can verbally and confidently communicate any issues, concerns or anomalies that may indicate a cyber risk.
There are, of course, additional technical steps that organizations can take to add even more layers to their cyber strategies, such as endpoint monitoring solutions, outsourced vulnerability scans, and penetration testing, to name just a few. For digitally dispersed teams that span multiple geographies and time zones, these may be necessary, but even the newest startup firms will need to implement the above steps as a starting point and continue boltersing systems going forward.
The steps outlined above are just the basic cyber security essentials every business needs to create among their teams, especially with freelance and remote working practices set to grow in prominence in the coming years in parallel with more sophisticated attacks.
It’s clear to see that the steps in this guide give organizations plenty of food for thought when strengthening cyber resilience among their freelance and remote workers. Whether they are full-time employees or contractors, strong cyber awareness and security require vigilance as the workforce continues to evolve into the digital space.
However, with a robust multi-layered approach to cyber security, firms of all shapes and sizes can reduce risks and enable easier and more stable collaboration regardless of where their team is located.