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Heads up: freelancers are a prime target for cybercriminals

There are many benefits to being a freelancer. You get to choose your work schedule, create your own pay rates, and work from anywhere. However, if you are not careful, that freedom can come at a price. As a mobile worker, you likely have volumes of client data on your work computer, and that information is a goldmine to cybercriminals, so caution is of the absolute essence.

As a freelancer, you will likely be targeted by online criminals, so you have to respect yourself and your clients by taking the proper precautions to avoid a costly data breach. To help you understand the risks and issues, let’s talk about the problem of cybercrime and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim.

Why Freelancers Are at Risk

As a freelancer who does most of their work online, you are constantly creating and compiling data, sometimes without even realizing it. For instance, when you are visiting websites to research your current project, the companies who own those websites are constantly collecting data through cookies and browser fingerprinting. Hackers understand this process and they can extract that data for malicious use. Criminals can also study your digital movements to try and hack into your system, and from there, they can steal the data of your clients.

It is important to understand that just about any piece of personal information obtained by hackers can be used to harm the owner. Social security and credit card numbers can be used to make fraudulent purchases and even take out home loans without the victim realizing it. Even email addresses can be used to send out phishing messages in an attempt to steal data from others.

Many freelancers may not even realize that they are a primary target of hackers because they assume that they are a tiny entity and cybercriminals only go after large corporations, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hackers love to go after small businesses because they realize that smaller organizations may not have the resources to secure their data, but rest assured that even though you may have less of it, the data on your system is just as valuable to hackers on the black market.

Avoid Common Scams

Another reason that hackers target freelancers is that there are more opportunities to hack into their systems using common scams. For instance, many freelancers like to do their work in public places like coffee shops and libraries, but by connecting to the wrong Wi-Fi network, you could easily become the victim of a man-in-the-middle attack. This is essentially a fake network set up by a hacker that appears to be free or matches closely to the legitimate Wi-Fi network at the business. However, when you connect, you are really attaching yourself directly to the hacker, and from there, they have easy access to your data.

Hackers also realize that freelancers frequently meet new clients, and being more open to new connections means that hackers can try to disguise themselves as a legitimate entity. Cybercriminals often do this by sending a phishing email with a link that may appear to go to their website, but if you click, you are creating a doorway between you and the hacker and your data is immediately at risk.

After you’ve added new clients to your portfolio, it’s important to take the time to validate them before getting further into business with them. Ask for a down payment upfront or complete a background check. At the absolute minimum, research them online and use your peer network to see if others have worked with this client and whether they are the real deal.

Keep in mind that cybercriminals don’t always need fancy tech tricks to steal your data. They can take advantage of you in person too. It just takes a few moments for a thief to glance over your shoulder at the coffee shop and steal a few email addresses. And if you leave your phone or laptop unattended, they can just pick it up and take it without issue. This is why you must always stay with your equipment, never plug a USB drive into your computer that you are unfamiliar with, and put privacy screens on your computer so nobody can see your work but you.

Protecting Data on a Daily Basis

Even as freelancing superstars, we are still human, so it is important to implement standard security procedures into our everyday lives so we don’t end up falling for one of those common scams. Start with smart passwords. They should have a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, and they should be changed frequently. On top of your password, consider two-factor authentication on your phone. This would be an additional security measure like a biometric thumb or eye scan that is unique only to you, so hackers cannot get in even if they guess your password.

It is also a smart idea to install a virtual private network (VPN) on your computer and phone. Enabling this software will ensure that your data is automatically encrypted, and it will disguise your location so hackers cannot find you, even if they are sitting right next to you. Of course, you should also have antivirus software installed which must be updated whenever a new version becomes available.

As a final precaution, you should regularly back up all of your data onto an external device. Not only is this a smart practice if your computer crashes, but hackers can sometimes install ransomware which gives them control of your computer until you pay them money. If you don’t want to play into their game, backup your data, and you can get what you need and then alert the authorities.

By understanding common cyber scams and taking the right precautions, you can keep your clients protected and coming back for more.

Noah Rue Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad fascinated with the intersection between global health and modern technology.