Why Cybersecurity Is a Must for All Freelancers

It's up to you to be proactive and learn how to avoid breaches or other cybersecurity issues | Photo by  Matthew Henry  on  Unsplash

It's up to you to be proactive and learn how to avoid breaches or other cybersecurity issues | Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

If you're a freelancer who works online, your top concerns may be having a computer that's powerful enough to support your workflow and setting up your workstation for maximum comfort and productivity. Those things are indeed important, but you can't overlook cybersecurity.

A Cybersecurity Issue Could Significantly Hinder Your Workflow

Many variations exist regarding how freelancers make a living. Some have agreements with companies that allow them to know with relative certainty how much work they'll complete in a given day, week, or month. Then, it could be a bit easier for them to project their income expectations.

Others visit various platforms and claim work from them daily if possible. They may set a goal to try and earn a certain amount before stopping for the day.

No matter how you structure your freelance career, a cybersecurity problem could make it difficult or impossible to stay productive. Imagine if your computer has a virus that causes it to redirect to a fake search page whenever you try to use Google or bombards your browser window with endless pop-ups that cover your screen with ads.

Things could get even worse if hackers hit your system with ransomware. Then, you'd likely be barred from your files unless you agree to pay a ransom. Even then, there's no guarantee that payment restores the access.

Admitting to a client that you can't work because a cybersecurity problem took your system out of commission could also damage your relationship. It might not if you have a longstanding history with them, but it could give a bad impression if you only started working for a client a week ago.

You Could Be Liable for Breaches

Unfortunately, there are no cut-and-dry standards for what degree of liability a freelancer might bear if they suffer a data breach that involves client information. That's all up to an individual company. Generally, though, you need to be aware of personal liability and contractual liability.

Personal liability occurs if your actions — or lack thereof — damage the company. For example, a client may learn you did not have antivirus software on your computer. They may say you neglected to engage in a standard cybersecurity procedure, and that put the enterprise at risk. Contractual liability happens when you don't fulfill something you agreed to in the contract. Cybersecurity could come into play there, too.

You should always read a contract carefully. It might have a stipulation that states: "The contractor must notify the company of any breach that may have compromised information within 24 hours of becoming aware of such an incident." Make sure to comply if this happens.

In a freelancing situation, you don't have an IT team that sets up your computer and can tweak the settings to keep the network secure. That means it's up to you to be proactive and learn how to avoid breaches or other cybersecurity issues. If you don't, your freelance career could suffer if you spend more time recovering from cybersecurity problems than expanding your client network.

Here are some cybersecurity tips to strongly consider implementing:

1. Avoid Opening Suspicious Emails or Attachments

Many cybercriminals emphasize a sense of urgency to get clients to take action. For example, people who get lottery scam emails receive messages to say they're winners but need to provide personal information immediately. One common tactic is for hackers to request bank details to supposedly transfer winnings into a person's account. They take out all the money instead.

Unfortunately, urgency can also become a part of a freelancer's life. You've probably dealt with the "feast or famine" cycle. Sometimes you have almost more work than you can handle, but there are dry spells, too. During the lapses, you may be especially excited to start working for someone new. Always be careful if something about a job offer email seems sketchy, and especially if the client demands you download something.

In the fall of 2018, hackers targeted well-known freelancing sites and inserted malware into attachments that claimed to contain job offer details. If you get an offer for work but know you didn't apply for it or the client insists you must download a file to receive information about a freelance position, something may be amiss.

2. Use a Password Manager

You probably have dozens of passwords to use every day. If you're like many Americans, there's room for improvement in your password management strategies. Statistics published in 2017 by the Pew Research Center showed that 49% of respondents write down their passwords at least some of the time. Various studies published elsewhere also highlight the problem of password reuse.

Writing down a password may be something you do out of habit or without even realizing it. Also, using one in more than one place gives hackers a broader reach if they seize it. However, a password manager can suit your busy freelance lifestyle while curbing insecure practices. Most companies have free versions and encourage you to upgrade if you like how the product works.

3. Steer Clear of High-End Smartphones Sold at Massive Discounts

Today's smartphones are so robust that you may be able to do some of your freelance work on one of them instead of a computer. As you stay mindful of your freelance budget, it may be tempting to buy a luxury smartphone that someone's selling for a shockingly low price on an auction site. However, cybersecurity researchers say that could expose you to malware.

One company tracks a pool of 65,000 phone makes and models and says counterfeit models regularly show up within it. Security experts examined the phones and confirmed they contained multiple types of malware out of the box. Since cybercriminals tweak the devices to look exactly like the real things after installing malware, you'd never know you had a compromised gadget.

4. Be Mindful of Confidentiality

Your clients will probably send information that's clearly marked as only for team members to view. Take that specification seriously. Moreover, safeguard company information even if it doesn't have a confidential warning.

It's tempting to post documents on freelancing forums or send them to freelancer friends while venting about something like a complicated style guide or other tricky requirements. However, you can never be sure what'll happen to the material after it leaves your care. Never assume that other recipients will maintain confidentiality, even if you ask them. Always work with documents so only you and other authorized parties can see them.

Cybersecurity Strategies Protect Your Freelance Career

You now know why cybersecurity is essential for all freelancers. These four tips are not enough to build a comprehensive strategy, but they're excellent places to start.

Guest blogger Kayla Matthews’ writes about personal and professional development topics and has been featured on The Muse, Inc.com, HR Daily Advisor and MakeUseOf. To read more from Kayla, please visit her blog,Productivity Theory.