How to Protect Client Data: A Basic Guide

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on January 31, 2018

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It’s a question that comes up in freelance circles time and time again: How do you protect client data? It’s no secret that the fallout from a cybersecurity incident can be significant — not only to your business, but to your clients’ businesses, as well. According to PWC, cybercrime costs companies around the world an estimate of $400 billion dollars a year, and that number is growing.

With 43 percent of cyberattacks geared at small businesses, it’s important to do all you can to protect your critical, confidential data. Unfortunately, it often takes just one attack to get through and crush your bottom line. A single breach can hurt your reputation as a freelancer, and even stir up lawsuits from angry clients. Here’s a closer look at how today’s digitally savvy indys are taking the steps needed to keep their client’s most important info safe.

Use Virtual Private Networks for Protection on the Go

Freelancers don’t work from just one location. We’re on the move, checking reports on our smartphones, researching in a coworking space and emailing clients on our way home. If you’re constantly on the go and accessing client information from different devices and wireless networks, you have to know how to protect your work — especially when it includes a client’s proprietary information or payment data.

“Armed with easily obtainable and inexpensive equipment, hackers can intercept public Wi-Fi traffic, which means if you are communicating with a client or working on a client file, all that data could be exposed,” the Florida Bar Practice Resource Institute notes.

A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts your information so it’s much more difficult to hack. You can set up your own private network by investing in an affordable monthly subscription. Once this system is in place, you can log in to your VPN from any device or Wi-Fi system.

Keep Your Mobile Devices Locked Down

While we’re on the topic of mobile devices — are yours protected? Take a quick inventory of your smartphone: If you have any apps that connect to your business accounts or digital document management systems, your clients’ information can be exposed in just a few taps. So make sure you have a strategy in place if your phone gets stolen or even left behind in an Uber. Password protect your smartphones and tablets, and consider using thumbprint or biometric protection for an extra layer of security.

While you’re at it, consider enabling the remote lock and data wipe features on your phone — which will be super useful if your device is lost or stolen. There are also third-party apps and programs that you can use to enable the same functionality. A remote wipe will protect your information no matter who gets their hands on your device.

Don’t Overlook a Basic Antivirus Routine

Since owning your very first computer, you’ve probably been aware of the need for a solid antivirus program. These programs routinely scan your computer, emails and files to check for anything malicious trying to break in. Today, there are endless providers to choose from at a wide range of costs, so it’s easy to choose the protection that’s right for you.

As a best practice, you should set the program to automatically scan so you don’t even have to think about it, and make sure you accept any updates or set them up to download on their own. That way, you’ll always be protected against the latest threats that hit the market.

Get Your Passwords Up to Snuff

None of your passwords are “Welcome1” or “Password!,” right? A weak password is a hacker’s dream and a freelancer’s nightmare. Up your password game and make sure you’re taking the steps needed to protect your client data.

Remember, anything that can be password protected should be. And make sure to follow password best practices: Each of your passwords should have at least eight characters, a capital letter, a number and at least one special character. And don’t forget to change your passwords regularly. In fact, many experts recommend that you do so at least once per quarter.

To go that extra mile, consider leveraging a password manager app like LastPass, which lets you set long, sophisticated passwords that are incredibly difficult to break, without having to remember a randomized 16-character string.

Consider Cybersecurity Insurance

Unfortunately, you can do everything possible to protect your client’s data and still fall victim to a scam or hack. As such, you may want to consider investing in cybersecurity insurance policies, which can provide small business owners with peace of mind and business protection. Typically, these plans cover up to a set amount of money per incident and can help you reimburse clients for losses, cover the cost of an investigation and help if you’re sued. Talk to your insurance broker and ask if they have a cybersecurity option that can connect to your existing insurance policies.

No matter what, you need to have a digital strategy that helps you protect client data. Take some time to audit your current setup. Is everything secure? If not, look at which practices you can improve and which tech tools will help you create a digital environment that’s safe for even your client’s most sensitive business data.

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