Freelancers have to balance so many tasks that would otherwise be handled by other individuals and dedicated teams if they were working for a business. From marketing and social media management to accounting and client acquisition, it’s a role that requires plenty of juggling and the wearing of many hats to keep the business afloat. But something that many freelancers neglect is cybersecurity — a mistake that could cost them considerably if they found themselves the victim of an attack or a data breach.
How much could a data breach cost freelancers?
Research by Markel Direct found that cybercriminals regularly target self-employed individuals and SMEs, because they typically don’t have the resources to protect themselves, making them an easy target for an attack. The financial consequences of an attack can be significant, from the loss of future business, reputational damage and the cost of retrieving data.
It can be devastating to a freelancer and completely destroy the business they’ve built, as well as resulting in a loss of trust from their clients. In the report, 68% of those surveyed reported the cost of their data breach as up to £5,000.
The leading risks freelancers face
Freelancers naturally need to be mindful of any cybersecurity threat, but there are some that are a particular risk to people working remotely.
When you’re an employee, you have the protection that the company implements, with restrictions in place on the files and programmes that can be downloaded onto a work device. But freelancers don’t have these restrictions and the devices used for work are likely the same ones used for personal use too.
Factoring in the fact that personal devices may not have the same standard of antivirus software, the risks of malware are high. If your device is infected with malware, it can delete important files, destroy computer systems and prevent you from accessing important data. It’s a huge disruption to your business and can result in a loss of productivity.
Because of the lack of regulation, freelancers may not be on top of updating their software regularly, which puts them at risk of threat actors who seek to exploit vulnerabilities in software. Unless freelancers keep their software current and install updates when they become available, they could needlessly be putting their data, and ultimately their business, at risk.
Phishing has been in the media more and more in recent years, and it’s become a major threat for freelancers and global businesses alike. Since freelancers are reliant on communication with clients and third parties, they are often going to find themselves in situations where it’s necessary to hand over their contact details to potentially unknown people.
This puts them in a vulnerable position if they’re not on their guard for phishing emails, with cybercriminals hoping to socially engineer people into clicking on a malicious link or installing a harmful attachment. Freelancers need to be incredibly careful when clicking on a link or handing over details because they’re more at risk of being exploited.
Managing data and assets as a freelancer
The following tips will help freelancers grow their resilience when it comes to cybersecurity threats, keeping their assets as safe and secure as possible.
Develop an incident response plan
Developing a cyber incident response plan to tackle potential breaches if they arise is one of the most effective ways to ensure that a breach doesn’t derail your whole business, and helps you to keep on top of any signs of nefarious activity.
As one leading business explains, “cybersecurity incident response is the approach an organisation takes to plan for, respond to, manage and mitigate cybersecurity incidents. The ultimate goal of incident response is to limit the damage and disruption of attacks and, where necessary, restore operations as quickly as possible”. As a freelancer, you’re vulnerable to a host of attacks, so developing a plan to combat issues when they arise should be your first port of call.
Protect your connections
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are a way to establish a secure, encrypted network when you’re using a public network like Wi-Fi in a public space. It offers added protection to ensure your connection can’t be attacked and routes it through a trusted provider for protection against hacking.
VPNs are particularly useful for freelancers who may not always work from the same location and could be working in public areas, which isn’t safe from a data perspective. Don’t be fooled by what appear to be legitimate WiFi names. Hackers often mimic public networks to build a clone, so only connect to public WiFi if you’re using a VPN to protect you.
Keep a backup of your data
Working with numerous clients means you’re managing loads of data and documents at any given time, which a data breach could completely eradicate. Having a backup of your data at all times means that if there’s an attack and your devices are compromised, you have an easy way of restoring everything to minimise the damage. It also means that in the event of a ransomware attack, you’re not at the mercy of cybercriminals.
Use a password manager
Complex passwords can help to avoid someone gaining access to your devices and data, but so many of us choose the same password over and over again out of convenience and to make it easier to remember. It’s a practice that’s incredibly dangerous and password managers remove the need for the risk. They’re safer and make it quicker to log into different websites and applications, so they’re a great tool for productivity as well as security.
The digital age has been defined by security challenges, and as hackers and criminals become more sophisticated in their efforts, businesses need to stay ahead of the threats to avoid becoming victims. For freelancers, these threats can be more of a risk than they realise, and ignoring the issue will only serve to devastate the business they’ve worked hard to build. Having protection in place to mitigate the risks and prevent an attack is not only well worth the effort but in today’s risky online environment, it’s essential.