As a freelancer in any industry, you are likely more susceptible to hackers and cybercrime than many other professions. Not only are you pulling in a constant stream of customer data, but as a worker on the go, you likely work exclusively in the digital realm with all of your information in the online space. That means that you are basically presenting data on a silver platter for cybercriminals to find and use for malicious purposes.
If you take your business seriously, then cybersecurity needs to be your top priority, not only for your clients but also for the stability of your own enterprise. Luckily, you can stay out of the way of cybercriminals by implementing a few basic security features along with an understanding of common threats. We’ll explain both solutions below.
Protect Client Data
It is important to remember that just about any piece of client data can be used by cybercriminals to cause havoc. Credit card and social security numbers are especially dangerous, as they can be used to take out fraudulent loans and commit identity fraud that could lead to financial and emotional issues as your customers frantically try to get their life back together.
Keep in mind that it is not only the data you acquire from customers that need to be protected. As a freelancer, you are likely working on many different websites with many different companies, and the cookies and browsing breadcrumbs you leave behind are also loaded with customer data as well as your own. If you don’t protect your systems, that data can be easily extracted by hackers.
If you think you are safer because you have a smaller business, think again. Hackers tend to go after smaller targets often because they know that freelancers and new organizations often don’t have the resources or security procedures in place to protect their data, and even if the hackers only get away with a small amount of private customer data, that information is just as valuable to hackers and dangerous on the black market.
If you do have a client who becomes the victim of cybercrime and it is connected back to you, it could mean a hit to your reputation that you may not be able to come back from, and as a smaller business, you may not want that type of heat. Recent statistics show that the cost of a breach could be as much as £285k ($200k) in penalties and repairs, so if you don’t bring in that kind of money, caution is of the utmost importance.
Avoid Common Scams and Sketchy Characters
Since you are likely a one-person company that doesn’t have an IT team to detect issues and solve problems, you will need to be extra cautious of the companies and clients with which you interact. Part of that is being aware of common scams that could spell big trouble. Phishing emails are often sent by a hacker and they continue to be a constant threat. If you are contacted by a freelance client that seems too good to be true or asks for private information upfront, you may be dealing with a hacker.
You must complete your due diligence when it comes to finding and accepting freelance clients. Before you start sharing with them, get their contact information and look them up online to see if they have a digital footprint. A first step in determining if they are legitimate is by searching online with the keywords “company’s name + scam” or “company’s name + lawsuit,” and see what comes up. Also, use your network of writers and on LinkedIn to ask if your associates have heard of the company and if they have a good reputation.
Another common scam that you should be aware of has little to do with who you work with, but instead, where you do your work. The man-in-the-middle attack is when a hacker sets up a fake Wi-Fi network in a public place and tries to gain the victim’s attention by saying that it is free or by attempting to mimic the real Wi-Fi at the establishment. When you connect to this fake network, you are really connecting directly to the hacker’s computer, and from there, they can take any data they want from your machine. To avoid this scam, always take the time to ask the proprietor of the establishment for the correct Wi-Fi, so you know it is legitimate.
To have the best chance of avoiding these issues now and in the future, you will want to build your computer network like a fortress. Not only will taking the proper precautions keep you out of financial trouble, but you could also advertise in your job pitches how secure your business really is. Start with smart passwords. Every program you use should have a strong password that utilises a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, and every password you use should be unique.
The next step in setting up your security fortress is installing software that will keep cybercriminals at bay. Start by installing antivirus software and use it to scan your system every week for malware and viruses. Always make it a point to update your antivirus software whenever a new version is available so you get the latest protection. On top of that, you should install a virtual private network (VPN), which will disguise your location and encrypt all of your precious information.
Along with keeping your data secure, you will also want to keep all-important personal and client data stored on a dependable backup server. This will come in handy if you ever lose your computer or if you are the target of ransomware, which is an attack where hackers try to take control of your system until you pay them money to release it. If you have a backup, you can recover the data without playing into the hacker’s game.
You’ve worked hard to create your freelance business, so you should do everything in your power to protect it. Try the solutions described above and your business will remain strong and secure.