Freelancers, solo entrepreneurs and self-employed workers often face unique cyber security risks. When getting your freelance operation off the ground, it can be easy to overlook the security of any files or systems that you use, along with those that you share with your clients. Security can often take a backseat, but this is often perilous.
When using a realm of shared devices and logins, extra precautions are needed to avoid becoming victims of cyber attacks. While it should go without saying that securing your own personal devices is imperative, it can be difficult to maintain consistent cybersecurity when working on multiple creative projects simultaneously. Meeting project deadlines and maintaining client relationships often take precedence over the need to change login passwords and patch your system software.
However, neglecting these types of cyber protection strategies can have a profound impact on your overall security, as well as that of your clients or suppliers. By learning about common online threats and implementing proper protections, freelancers can better defend their systems, data, and livelihoods.
This short guide will address the most prevalent cyber threats that impact freelancers along with top recommendations to safeguard their data, projects, and client information going forward in the unpredictable and digitally-connected world of freelancing and solopreneurship.
Assessing the most common cyber threats
As a freelancer, you are essentially operating a small business. That means you face many of the same cybersecurity risks that established companies deal with. However, if you’re running your freelance business solo (which is likely), you will often be cautious about where your limited budget goes.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that you’d invest in more suitable project management software and essential tools to help you complete tasks rather than outsourced penetration testing services to understand your cyber risk factors.
However, it’s crucial to understand exactly what types of threats you could be facing when working autonomously without proper protection. Here are some of the most common threats to be aware of:
- Phishing attacks: These involve emails, calls, or other messages pretending to be from a legitimate company in order to trick you into revealing passwords, financial information, or downloading malware. Recent statistics show that 51% of freelancers have suffered a breach as a result of phishing.
- Malware infections: Viruses, spyware, ransomware, and other malicious software can infect your devices through imposter emails, contaminated websites, or infected files.
- Network intrusions: With remote work over public Wi-Fi or unsecured home networks, intruders may attempt to steal data in transit or infiltrate connected devices.
- Weak passwords: If your passwords are too simple or reused across logins, hackers stand a better chance of cracking them and compromising your accounts.
- Data theft: Whether through malware, network intrusions, or social engineering, thieves look to steal sensitive client information for financial gain.
- Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks: Cybercriminals may attempt to overwhelm servers or websites with traffic to make them inaccessible.
Securing home networks and devices
As a remote freelancer, your home internet networks and devices need protection against intrusions. These are things that you will invariably be using all the time, so bolstering the first line of defense is crucial.
Here are key steps to secure your digital work environment:
- Encrypt your wireless network. Use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption on your Wi-Fi router to prevent snooping on your traffic. Avoid public or free Wi-Fi when working remotely or offsite if possible, as these are easy targets for hackers.
- Install an enterprise-grade firewall. A hardware firewall adds a layer of protection between your network and the internet. Software firewalls on devices also help block unwanted access.
- Use a VPN (virtual private network). When accessing the internet from home, a VPN will encrypt your traffic to prevent spying from your ISP or hackers on public networks.
- Keep systems patched and updated. Applying the latest security updates for operating systems, software, firmware, and apps reduces vulnerabilities and strengthens defenses. Enable auto-updates where possible to make it easier for you.
- Use antivirus tools. Antivirus software helps block malware, spyware, ransomware, and other threats from infecting your hardware and any software you have installed. Run regular scans to ensure an optimum and fully functional system.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA requires providing additional forms of identification, like a one-time code or biometric fingerprint in addition to a password, to log into important accounts. This extra security layer significantly bolsters your cyber defenses.
- Back up data regularly. Ransomware in particular can encrypt files and hold them hostage until funds are transferred. Maintain offline backups of critical data for recovery should your system be compromised.
Choosing secure online tools
Many freelancers rely on open-source, cloud-based tools and services to manage projects, communicate, and store files online. While many leading providers will be transparent about security practices, it’s always wise to take stock of your digital toolkit from a security perspective to prevent headaches.
- Understand what any of your team members, clients, and collaborators can access in shared cloud storage, project management, communication, and other web-based tools you use. Limit access only to those who need it.
- Research providers’ security standards, certifications, auditing practices, and policies around encryption, data storage, and recovery. Choose established, trusted providers rather than the cheapest ones.
- Use strong, unique passwords and never reuse any between accounts. Use randomly generated, lengthy passwords stored in a password manager for access to web services and tools.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). Look for single sign-on (SSO) options and MFA to add an extra layer of account security beyond passwords. Receive codes via an authenticator app rather than SMS when possible.
- Services should encrypt data that’s stored or in transit, along with backups, and ideally, they should provide end-to-end encryption for communications like chat and video conferencing.
- Review settings around data sharing with third parties. Turn off public access or disable where not needed.
Protecting client data and work product
A major responsibility as a freelancer is protecting client data, work projects, and files from theft or loss.
Some tips for keeping sensitive information secure:
- Obtain written consent for data collection, if applicable. Follow relevant data protection laws, and compliance when handling personal information.
- Use secure file transfer tools. When exchanging large files with clients, use tools that offer enhanced encryption and access control over standard email attachments.
- Keep client files and data stored separately from each other and personal files. Use separate devices to isolate sensitive data.
- Encrypt hard drives and specific files or folders for additional data security.
- For any teammates or subcontractors accessing client data and files, enforce strong password policies.
- Limit data access only to essential personnel. The fewer people that can access sensitive data, the better.
- Securely transfer and dispose of files. Permanently delete local copies of files after transfers and digitally shred drives before disposal.
By taking the right precautions around home networks, devices, online tools, and client data, freelancers can greatly reduce their risk of a damaging cyber attack or data breach.
Taking the time to implement security best practices ultimately saves time and hassle in the long run by avoiding compromised systems and lost or stolen information. Staying vigilant about new threats and making cybersecurity a priority ensures your freelance business stays safe and productive.