5 Cybersecurity Tips for Freelancers

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on August 18, 2017

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The right cybersecurity tips can keep your information secure. I should know — I learned that the hard way. During a recent cab ride, I left my phone behind when it slipped out of my bag. Cue panic: that device had my business banking app, client contacts and other business-critical information I didn’t want lost or hacked. Luckily, I was able to reclaim my phone, but I had a fail-safe app installed that lets me lock or wipe data remotely, just in case. The entire experience underscored just how critical cybersafety is.

Often, freelancers’ devices have confidential client data and sensitive information about their businesses that they wouldn’t want made public. Following cybersecurity best practices — from choosing secure passwords to controlling system access — will remove the risk of hacking and viruses. Here’s a quick gut check for your security needs.

Follow Password Best Practices

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been assigned Password1 by a vendor and taken more than a week to change it. Guilty! Since most programs are accessed via username and password, your first line of defense is a strong password. Wired interviewed the experts, and they had several tips for passwords that make it harder to hack into your files:

  • Choose passwords that are a minimum of twelve characters long.
  • Include letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Avoid obvious personal information, such as family names, phone numbers and pets.
  • Select something unusual, like a character name from your favorite movie plus your favorite food. “#Darth3Pancake1!!” is difficult to guess.
  • Use different passwords for your key accounts. If one is compromised, the others are still protected.
  • Change your passwords quarterly.

Enable Double Authentication

Despite your best efforts of using long, complex passwords, a determined hacker may still figure it out. Or, a disgruntled contractor might break into your accounts with bad intentions. Personally, I discovered double authentication when I found out that a former virtual assistant was searching a shared email for reference files to use as templates for her new job. Double authentication will text or email a pass code to get you into the system. These authorizations can occur every time you log in, or every so often to authorize a device. Other systems work with biometric authorization, like a fingerprint scan. Adding this extra layer of protection ensures that you’re really signing off on access before it’s given.

Use Virus Scanners, Malware Software and Backup

Let’s discuss the importance of having the right systems in place. If you’ve ever had a virus that caused your computer to drag — or worse, launch the blue screen of death — you know how important this is. Threats to your security don’t always come in the form of a compromised password or lost mobile device. Once, I opened an attachment from a hacked client account and ended up offline for three hours restoring my system. These issues can be prevented by investing in three types of support:

  • Virus protection: Use a program that provides virus protection for your laptops and mobile devices.
  • Malware: Sometimes, malware can slip through even the best virus protection programs. Use a malware protection tool regularly to scan your system for tracking or security risks.
  • Backup: Backup software ensures that, even if your system falls victim to a hack or virus, you’ll be able to recover essential information. One freelancer I know was targeted by a data encryption scan, and simply bypassed it by restoring her system from a backup provider in under an hour — with a single phone call.

Have a Remote Device Strategy

If you’re using mobile devices to access client data or do proprietary work — as most freelancers are — it’s important to have a plan to deal with a “device loss” scenario. Beyond client work, your mobile devices often have sensitive financial information or other business data that you don’t want public. To protect them:

  • Use Find My Device (Android) or Find My iPhone (Apple) features to help you locate the device. This may allow you to get it back before anything is lost or compromised. However, this is only helpful if it’s set up before you lose a device.
  • Learn how remote wipe procedures work for your device to get rid of sensitive data before it can be accessed. Or, use an end-point management app, like those recommended by Dr. Fone, to wipe your data in case your phone is lost or stolen.
  • Be sure to use a secure mobile backup solution, so your pictures and other data aren’t lost if your device has to be wiped.

Consider Who You Allow Access to Your Systems

Today’s freelancers are rarely true solopreneurs. A virtual assistant might need access to your Google Documents, or an accountant might require access to your invoicing system to balance your books. As you provide access to your systems, documents and information, it’s important to think about levels of access. Vet your vendors and colleagues closely, and provide the minimum level of access needed to complete a project.

For example, an assistant can complete a presentation design with view-only access to a document, lowering the chances of the source document changing. Keep track of access rights given, and if you part ways, immediately terminate their access to your systems and information. A tight rein over access rights bolsters your security.

Freelancers have a lot to worry about, and I know from personal experience that keeping your business safe is at the top of the list. By following these cybersecurity tips, it’s possible to ensure that your system is as bulletproof as possible from potential threats. If something should happen, you’ll quickly get back to serving your customers and doing what you love.

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