How to Protect Your Data from Hackers and Cybercriminals

protect your data

As a busy freelancer, the last thing on your mind would likely be proactively finding ways to protect your data. However, leaving your data susceptible can put you and others at risk of infecting your devices with malware, becoming a victim of identity theft, and/or exposing confidential client information.

Last year, 446.5 million sensitive records were exposed in the event of several data breaches. On top of this, an additional 1.68 billion passwords, email addresses, usernames, and other non-sensitive records were exposed.

These astonishing numbers prove the need for greater cybersecurity measures to be taken in the wake of these breaches. To protect your devices, you must be mindful of your online activities anytime you open your connected devices.

Tips to protect your data the right way

1. Password safety – Your first line of defense to protect your data is to encrypt your devices and accounts with strong login credentials. A strong password should be comprised of a unique combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.

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For stronger protection, consider using a passphrase rather than a combination of characters which can be easier to hack with robotic software. It is highly recommended that you also implement two-factor authentication so you will be asked to verify your login attempt in the event that it was not you signing in.

2. Wi-Fi security – Whether you are traveling or working remotely from a library or coworking space, you will likely encounter public wireless networks.

Public networks are unsecured, which means that they offer users no encryption during their session. Working off of unsecured networks can leave your data susceptible to nearby cybercriminals who may be eavesdropping.

When transmitting sensitive data such as personal, financial, or client-related data, always avoid these networks as often as you can.

protect your data - vpn

3. VPN (virtual private network) – It’s not always easy to avoid public Wi-Fi, especially when you need to send something quickly on the go. Using a VPN can help protect your data while on these networks.

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A virtual private network encrypts your session by changing your IP address, rendering you invisible to anyone else on the network. VPNs are useful for anyone who travels frequently.

4. Backup your data – If your computer becomes infected with any type of malware, you’d hate to discover that all of the information that you had stored on your device has disappeared. To combat this issue, be sure to back up your data to an external hard drive or cloud-based system regularly.

5. Cloud storage – If you choose to use cloud storage as a method of backup, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, make sure to never share sensitive information over the cloud – if you do, you should always encrypt it.

You should also follow the security guidelines that the cloud vendor has in place. Failing to do so could compromise your security. The largest benefit of most cloud systems is that they use the highest level of security that is available and fail far less often than traditional servers.

6. Antivirus software – To protect your data against any form of a cyber-attack, you should always start with downloading the proper equipment. Before purchasing any antivirus software, do some research to find your preferred company.

Many of these companies make the download process easy to set-up on your devices and even have representatives available to answer any questions you may have.

As a freelancer, the cost of this service is worth the investment to make sure that your hard work does not get damaged or lost in the event of a cyberattack.

7. Perform updates – When a software or system update becomes available, do not ignore the notification to do so. It is vital that you update your devices and programs regularly and not just for the latest versions, but also their security.

Many times, when an update is available, it is because a developer has located an open flaw in the program and patched it to provide you with top-level security.

8. Disable privacy settings – Whenever you purchase a new device, you should investigate the settings that are pre-enabled on the device. You’ll want to make sure that any automatic connectivity settings are turned off.

These settings will automatically connect you to nearby public Wi-Fi that is available, an option you should not take. You should also make sure that your accounts have the correct privacy settings turned on/off. This includes location services, cookies, ad tracking, and data sharing.

protect your data

9. Physical device security – As important as it is to protect your device internally, you should also focus on the physical security of the device. Never leave a device unattended in a public space if you are planning to walk away from it. You should also strongly consider using a lock on your laptop, as well as cases and screen protectors.

10. Encrypt PII – PII or personally identifiable information is data that can be easily used to locate, identify, or harm an individual. PII is typically information such as names, date of birth, locations, social security numbers, credit card information, login credentials, or medical records.

It’s important to identify what information about you is being stored and where it is being stored. This way you can take the necessary steps to protect it. Failing to protect your PII from outside viewers can lead cybercriminals to find it. After they collect this data, they can sell it on the dark web for hefty prices.

11. Digital footprints – With every action that you take online, a trail of “crumbs” is left behind you. This means that it is easy for someone to find traces of where you’ve been to ultimately track down the information they desire to steal from you.

Be cautious of the places you visit and how much you share. You should conduct a Google search of your name regularly. If you notice anything alarming, remove it yourself or ask the site user to politely remove it.

Just remember before sharing anything online that nothing ever truly disappears. It’s best to be overly cautious in this case, so if you’re questioning whether to post something or not, just don’t.

12. Avoid oversharing – If you use any social media accounts, be careful of how much information you share. Many freelancers have lost out on jobs for sharing secretive, defaming, or too personal of information on their accounts.

Additionally, avoid giving your login credentials out to anyone, no matter how much you might trust them. The fewer people that know your passwords, the higher chance your data has of staying secure.

13. Recognize scams Phishing emails are one of the most common way cybercriminals will target an individual in order to scam them. These emails come in the form of a phony email address posing as someone trustworthy such as a potential client or third-party vendor asking for sensitive information or financial information.

Thankfully, there are several ways to recognize these scams and protect your data. First, check the email address: verify that it is correct as it will often be missing a letter or number that is just one-off from the original. Also, be on the lookout for spelling and grammar mistakes and threatening calls to action throughout the body of the article.

Never click on attachments or links within these emails without verifying the sender or you may be at risk of downloading viruses.

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14. Check for compromises – Routinely checking your accounts and financial transactions is a good habit to begin performing. It’s always better to know early on that you have fallen victim to a cyberattack then to find out when it’s too late.

Many credit card and financial institutions offer free credit monitoring and provide records of every purchase you’ve made within a specified period of time.

You can also put your email address into https://haveibeenpwned.com/. This is a free tool that will show you if your email address has been involved in any recent breaches.

15. Use your client’s security – If you are working on a long-term contract with a company, ask them to utilize the security precautions that they use in their office. This may include their wireless networks, software, or management systems.

Using their security systems will provide you with both enterprise level encryption and storage. This could also save you from investing a great deal of your own money.

Questions to ask yourself when it comes to cybersecurity

Is this website I am entering my info on secure?

With every site that you visit you’ll want to verify that it is trustworthy and secure. Be on the lookout for a signal that this website is safe by locating its SSL or Secured Socket Layer.

This protection will be shown in the form of the URL beginning with “https://” or for sites that request any form of payments there should be a padlock icon at the beginning of the URL.

If you do not see either of these, it’s best not to input any financial information. You can also check the legitimacy of any website by visiting this URL: http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site= and inputting the site that you want to check. It will notify you if the site has hosted malware in the last 90 days.

What is the safest way I can accept payments?

When considering what payment methods, you will accept, you’ll want to research the companies with the highest reputations and security.

Though you may want to be paid immediately, it’s best to choose a service that verifies and clears both ends of the transaction through the appropriate financial lenders.

Online payment centers with reputable names such as PayPal, Square, and Intuit Payment Network, are great solutions and the easiest to set up. To avoid any cyber related issues or processing fees, why not just go the traditional route of having a check mailed to you?

Why is it dangerous to use public Wi-Fi?

Using public Wi-Fi is dangerous because it does not offer any protection. When you utilize public Wi-Fi there is typically no login credentials required to use the network.

This means that any data that you are transmitting over the network is being shared by anyone else on the network as well as nearby cybercriminals lurking on the network.

These criminals will then launch a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, which is when they exploit security flaws in the network to intercept your data and inject malware into your device.

I’ve become a victim of identity theft, what do I do now?

Realizing that your data and/or financial information has been stolen and used for malicious activities can be a heart-wrenching experience for anyone. Each year, more than 16 million individuals fall victim to identity theft.

The first step to take in recovering from this process is to report the crime to your local police department. You’ll also want to notify any businesses where fraudulent charges were made under your name.

Contact the major credit reporting companies and place a freeze on your credit so no new accounts can be opened. Consider purchasing an Identity Theft protection to avoid any future incidents.

Are only certain devices able to be hacked?

No – It’s a common misconception that Apple devices are unable to be infected with viruses and malware, but this is not true.

All devices have the same chances of contracting a virus, malware, or spyware from an attack. Always provide your device with the proper equipment to protect it against an attack, no matter what brand or type it is.

When it comes to cybersecurity, the number one way to protect your data is to be proactive and mindful. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly wiser each day.

It’s up to you to protect your data, your devices, and your client’s data from landing in the wrong hands. Think twice with every action you take online and always trust your gut if a site or email does not appear to be trustworthy.


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