There are countless benefits to freelancing. It allows for more flexibility, a greater work-life balance, and the ability to be your own boss. As a writer, you can do something you love and follow your passion while turning it into a successful career.
However, when your livelihood is based solely on the work you do online, some risks come with the rewards.
The gig economy is more popular than ever, with nearly one-third of Americans participating. That number skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many people have chosen to keep their freelance careers. Since you’re not necessarily a “big business,” you might not consider yourself a prime target for phishing scams and malware attacks. However, it can happen to anyone.
Let’s discuss why you should prioritize cybersecurity as a freelancer, and what you can do to protect yourself and your career as you go forward.
Why Is Cybersecurity Important to Freelancers?
So, why should you care about cybersecurity? First of all, you’re more susceptible to cybercrime than you might think. Because your work is done completely online, every piece of data you come in contact with is at risk. That includes everything from your personal information to your finances.
It’s impossible to know the likelihood that you will personally experience a breach, but as the old saying goes…
Why? Typically, when someone hires you, they’ll give you plenty of information about their business, who they are, and what they want. They might give you some insider information that few people are supposed to know about so you can write an effective piece.
In return, you’ll give them financial information when it comes time to receive payment for your work. When you invoice your clients, you’ll need to give them:
- Your preferred method of receiving payment: This could be direct deposit—in which case you’ll provide your bank account number and routing number—PayPal, Venmo, or hard copy check.
- Your address: Clients need this information for their payroll, and they also use it if they’re mailing you a check.
- Your date of birth and other personal identifying information: A client may ask for a copy of your driver’s license, your Social Security number, or other information to make sure you’re not a scammer.
If a cybercriminal gets their hands on that information, they could potentially steal your identity, or even worse, your money. Moreover, if the client has given you insider information about their company, and you have that information saved on your computer, you risk harming your relationship with that client if the client’s information gets stolen from your hard drive.
Even if you’re not overly concerned about your own data and information, your success depends on how much work you receive from clients.
Creating a Cybersecurity Strategy
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your clients? It starts with a solid cybersecurity strategy.
You don’t need to be an expert to create your strategy…start by following these steps:
1. Understand the Threats
- Phishing scams: Typically, emails in which the scammer claims they’re from an institution that needs your personal identifying information.
- Malware: Malicious software that infects your computer, causing any number of issues, including stolen data, system failure, or unwanted pop-ups prompting you to take action.
- Ransomware: Malware that infects your device after you open a link or attachment in an email; you then lose access to your files or your entire system unless you pay a ransom.
- Data leakage: Loss of data from your device, the cloud, or from your blog or other websites due to insecure data transmission.
- Hacking: Attempts on the part of hackers to access information stored on your computer’s hard drive, in apps, or on third-party servers, such as those of websites you use.
Once you have a better understanding of each threat, you can customize your strategy to strengthen your security against each one.
2. Up Your Password Game
Remembering passwords is a pain, huh? That’s why many people use passwords they can easily remember — and use them for several (if not all!) accounts.
But, your passwords are your first line of defense. So, you must start using stronger passwords:
- Make sure your passwords are at least 12 characters long, more than one word, and a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Incorporate words or parts of words that mean something deeply personal to you but would mean very little or nothing to a stranger.
- Don’t use the same password for your accounts. Create a unique, strong password for each one.
- Save your passwords via a password manager such as LastPass, Keeper, or Zoho Vault; or, create a hard-copy document and store it in a safe place.
It’s especially important to have a strong password for any work you’re storing in a cloud-based program. Once you experience a breach in the cloud, a cybercriminal will have access to your client information, as well as your own.
3. Encrypt Your Data
It’s also a good idea to keep your data safe using encryption. Whether you’re emailing information or sharing it another way, encryption will make it nearly impossible for someone to access that information. The person it’s intended for will need a code or password that should be given to them in a separate email or a different form of communication.
There are multiple ways to go about encrypting your data. You could encrypt the email itself or the file you’re sharing.
Here’s how to encrypt email:
- Determine whether you need a third-party tool: You can encrypt your emails with Gmail, Outlook, and iOS, but if you’re using Yahoo, AOL, or Android, you’ll need to download a third-party encryption tool.
- For Gmail, head to Google’s “Enable hosted S/MIME for message encryption” page: Follow the instructions. Your message recipient will need to have encryption enabled as well, and you’ll need to share a key through a different platform, such as a text message, so they can open your emails. Once you have encryption enabled and have shared the key, click the lock icon next to the recipient in the email, and click “view details” to change settings and encryption level.
- For Outlook, head to Microsoft’s “Encrypt messages by using S/MIME in Outlook Web App” page: Outlook requires you to get an email signing certificate, which is something you must buy from a company such as Comodo. Encrypt individual messages by clicking the three dots at the top of the message, then “Encrypt this message (S/MIME).” Again, your recipient must have encryption enabled as well.
- For iOS: Go to advanced settings and enable S/MIME. Confirm that you want to encrypt messages by default. Click the lock icon next to the recipient before you send an email.
You may want to only encrypt certain files, such as invoices, instead of going the whole nine with emails. To encrypt files, the Department of Education has a great resource, “HOW TO ENCRYPT FILES,” that walks you through encrypting Word documents, PDFs, and Apple docs. It also tells you how to encrypt files with WinZip. Like emails, encrypted files require the recipient to have a key to unencrypt them.
4. Be Wary and Trust Your Instinct
Finally, don’t be afraid to trust your gut. If something seems “off,” when it comes to a potential client or someone asking for information, look before you leap. Scam emails will often have spelling and grammar errors, and will try to make you feel like it’s urgent.
However, phishing scams have become more sophisticated than ever, and some criminals can make things seem very legitimate, catching even the most experienced freelancers in their web. Use good judgment and trust your instincts when it comes to avoiding those issues.
Unfortunately, no matter what you do, it’s nearly impossible to keep yourself 100% protected from a cyberattack. However, if you put enough precautions in place, you’ll be a less-likely target. There are so many businesses and freelancers out there who don’t have security efforts in place. A cybercriminal is more likely to take the easy route, so they can do more damage in less time.
However, that doesn’t mean you should rest on your existing security efforts forever.
Keeping your system updated and your anti-virus software as up-to-date as possible is necessary. The more you educate yourself on the risks of cybercrime, the easier it will be to make necessary upgrades as technology continues to advance. Remember, cybercriminals are always up-to-date on the latest, and they tend to use it to their advantage when unsuspecting individuals and businesses don’t make the right upgrades. Don’t let them take advantage of you because of something easily avoidable.
Make sure to let your clients know about your efforts, as well. As cyberattacks become more common and problematic, clients want to know that the data and information they’re providing will be secure. You can market your security efforts on your website, social media platforms, or even your blog.
Consider writing a blog post about everything you’re doing to prioritize cybersecurity. Post about your efforts on social media as well, and point people toward your cybersecurity blog post(s) as a form of content marketing. Discuss what your clients can expect from a security standpoint while working with you. The more you can offer them peace of mind, the more willing they’ll be to give you helpful information.
As a freelancer, it’s essential to take cybersecurity seriously. If you don’t already have a strategy in place, consider using some of the suggestions here to protect yourself, your clients, and your career.