As a freelancer, your computer is essential to your income. Many businesses that rely on technology as much as you do have dedicated IT departments that screen cybersecurity threats. You are the IT department for your business, which means it’s up to you to protect yourself and your client’s data against an attack.
The State of Cybersecurity
In 2018, one of the biggest threats in cybersecurity is lack of basic knowledge of cybersecurity threats. Most users simply don’t understand how a cyberattack is likely to occur. Freelancers are most likely to face four major threats: malware, unpatched software, password phishing and social media account hacks. Understanding what you’re up against is the first step in securing your home office.
Social Engineered Malware: The most common cyberattack is malware, and today’s online criminals use carefully worded emails and false websites to trick even the most diligent users into downloading harmful software onto their computers. Hundreds of millions of malware attacks occur each year, making it the dominant cybersecurity threat for freelancers today.
Unpatched Software: Software companies release patches all the time, which guard against newly discovered exploits and security weaknesses. Keeping up with all of the updates available for your computer and other devices can help prevent an older, out of date application from causing vulnerabilities in your device’s defenses.
Password Phishing: Spam emails that replicate legitimate, trusted sources are major risks for personal computer users. A convincing phishing email looks legitimate and usually asks for confidential information such as login credentials. Some phishing emails even warn users about fraud to alert them into taking immediate action.
Social Media Hacking: With so much personal information in one place, it was only a matter of time before criminals sought to exploit social media. Friend requests from people you don’t know may be an attempt at obtaining information for identity theft. Many scammers will pose as legitimate businesses in order to gain access to sensitive data, like your credit card information.
How to Protect Yourself against Cyberattacks
Now that you’re familiar with the most common cyber threats, here are eight easy tips to help you avoid becoming a victim and reduce your losses if you do experience a breach.
- Be Skeptical of Everything
Most cyberattacks count on deception and social engineering to access your computer. Even the best antivirus and firewall defenses can’t prevent you from manually downloading a worm through a deceptive link. Being skeptical of every email and social media request you receive will go a long way toward protecting your data.
- Keep a Clean Machine
Some basic protections in the form of antivirus software can stop most typical cyberattacks. There are some services that protect multiple devices through a single subscription – don’t forget about your smartphone!
- Create Better Passwords
It might seem like a simple step, but many people practice poor password management. Having a weak password can provide an easy opening for your entire system to be compromised. Use passwords that are long, consider using a password management service to create and store unique and complex and passwords for each of the online accounts you own.
- Avoid Rogue Wi-Fi Hotspots
If you’re a freelancer, you may often be working in public places such as coffee shops or shared workspaces. Would-be hackers are known to use these public spaces as hunting grounds for easy targets through the use of false Wi-Fi networks. Turning off your Wi-Fi connection and verifying the wireless networks you connect to manually will help avoid these false networks, but as a general rule, it’s best not to send sensitive information over public Wi-Fi networks at all.
- Set Up a Firewall
Firewalls act as secondary barriers against malicious software, but the firewalls that come preloaded on PCs may not be enough to fully protect your data. Downloading a third-party firewall app can add an additional layer of security on top of your computer’s default software. Some of the best firewalls update in real time as new threats are detected, ensuring you’re on top of the latest malware.
- Employ a VPN
Virtual private networks, or VPNs, provide a higher level of security on wireless networks. If your work utilizes sensitive information, a VPN creates an encrypted haven for any data sent from your computer. Since a VPN masks your computer’s IP address, it makes it difficult for a would-be thief to trace information back to your computer, masking and protecting your identity over the public web.
- Update Your Software
The endless stream of updates from programs and operating systems might seem tedious, but these updates could protect you from losing your data. As new threats and weaknesses are identified, app and software developers release patches that fix these security flaws. Turn on automatic updates to ensure your program’s security features are always up to date.
- Back Up Your Data
In the event of a catastrophic loss of data, having a backup can mean the difference between months of lost productivity and a minor inconvenience. A ransomware attack holds your data hostage until you meet the hacker’s demands, and these types of attacks can often result in a total loss of data. Even a simple hard drive failure can hinder your workflow if you’re not prepared for it.
A physical and digital backup of your most important files ensures that even in the worst-case scenario, your and your client’s assets are protected. Back up your computer daily and upload any new files into a physical hard drive each night before you go to bed. You’ll sleep a little easier knowing your data is safe and sound.
Cybersecurity is a constantly evolving landscape. New threats and new vulnerabilities pop up on an almost daily basis and it’s impossible to be 100 percent secure. Utilizing best practices and researching new potential threats regularly can help keep your defenses strong against the most common attacks.
Emily is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She covers tech, privacy and security.