There are tens of millions of freelance workers in the United States, and many more around the world, across almost every advanced services and knowledge economy industry, plying their trade remotely either as a full-time job or as a supplement to one. Working remotely, as the world is now well aware, comes with some cybersecurity concerns that anyone currently freelancing or hoping to in the future must understand and respond to. Below are the cybersecurity best practices for freelancers.
Use a VPN
Many people, unfortunately, don’t fully appreciate the many benefits of using a VPN in their daily lives, and certainly while working as a freelancer. Virtual private networks encrypt your IP address (and therefore your geographic location) as well as any data you send (to your clients, your financial institution etcetera).
There are both free and paid VPNs with a wide range of different features to consider, but they are a great way to show your clients that you take your and their data safety seriously. If a client brings up cybersecurity practices and what you do to keep your data safe, you instantly stand out above the competition when you mention that you always use a virtual private network.
Don’t Work of Public Networks Without a Firewall
If you work as a freelancer, chances are, though not always, you are working from multiple locations. These could be in the same city--you might alternate between a home office, and office space, or a local cafe, bar or restaurant--or you might define yourself as a digital nomad, working from various places around the world in a given year, and even month to month. In either case, you are bound to be using open and/or poorly secured networks wherever you go.
If you have to work from places like airports, cafes, restaurants, hotels and Airbnb apartments or shared working spaces, it is on you to make sure that you are not compromising your or your clients' data on these networks. Cybercriminals prowl such places looking for people with weak network security settings so you should always enable your firewall and turn off sharing when using them and only use websites with HTTPS and SSL as much as you can.
Observe Password Best Practices
The digital transformation seems like it forces a new application or account creation on us on a daily basis, and if you are a freelancer, you are responsible for ensuring that all of that authentication information (i.e., your passwords) is stored safely and, more importantly, is difficult to guess. While the prospect of things like quantum computing threaten to make cracking most passwords simply a matter of time, you can make it harder on cybercriminals by using randomly generated passwords each time you create an account on a platform or software you use to do business. There are randomizers out there you can use to generate long and complex alphanumeric codes as well as password managers like LastPass to help you store and easily log in with this information.
What you absolutely should not do is use the same password for all of your various logins--your financial institutions, your social media accounts, your CRM software etcetera.
Invest in a Firewall and Antivirus Software
As a freelancer you are completely on your own, both in terms of your success and failures and the investments you need to make to run your business. In the digital era, these investments increasingly include important cybersecurity measures that let your clients know you take digital safety seriously.
Often new computers come with firewall and antivirus software, but you will eventually need to purchase both of these things on your own when those subscriptions run out. Many antivirus software comes with a firewall and there are several reputable providers to choose from. Make sure, whatever you get, it features a constantly updating list of malware and robust virus and phishing detection.
Install Updates and Patches
This pertains to all of the various devices and software applications you use to run your freelance business. Installing updates can be time-consuming and the prompts often come at the worst time, but there are almost always good reasons for patches and updates.
Developers very frequently release them when they or someone else has found an error or inconsistency in an old piece of code that may constitute a potential cybersecurity vulnerability. Many high profile cases of applications and software being hacked over the last several years due to faulty coding illustrate the necessity of regular updating.
Sinking or swimming based on your own merits can be a scary proposition, especially for workers who have always enjoyed the support and security of a large business or institution. A great many people, however, find it to be one of the most liberating experiences of their professional lives. Make the freelance life easy on yourself and control what you can by implementing the above cybersecurity best practices.