Keeping Data Safe: Advice for Freelancers

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One rather scary responsibility that faces every freelancer is keeping data safe. By this, I don’t just mean your own data. The chances are you need to give serious consideration to your client’s data too.

Unless you’re a really loyal reader of this site (thanks!) you may not know that I’ve worked as both an IT consultant and a cybersecurity specialist in the past. Keeping data safe is something close to my heart, so I decided it was time for an article giving some practical advice.

Let’s get straight to it.

Get your Backups in Order

As a general rule, freelancers aren’t that great at backing up their data.

A recent survey said that more and more people do backup these days. However, when you delve into the figures, you see that in addition to the 20% of people who NEVER backup, there’s a further 25% who only run a backup YEARLY!

Would losing 364 days of work be just fine for you? It would be an absolute disaster for me.

Backing up is EASY. Both Windows and Mac computers include built-in software to make backing up to an external drive effortless. There are also countless online backup providers out there offering affordable solutions. In an ideal world, you should do both for extra peace of mind.

And one last thing: Yes, many of us use cloud storage like iCloud and OneDrive nowadays. Yes, this is a form of “backup.” But as an “IT person” I don’t think it should be the only one you have. And could you really say with certainty that every document you might ever need is safely in the cloud?

Data in the cloud

Use Disk Encryption

You may think that because you have a password on your computer that it’s “secure.” But that’s a big myth.

All any semi-tech-savvy person need do is remove the hard drive and plug it in somewhere else, and the data will prove relatively easy to access.

The way to protect against this is to use full disk encryption. 

On a Mac, this is called FileVault, and on Windows it’s called BitLocker. FileVault is included as standard with every Mac. Annoyingly, Microsoft only include BitLocker with “Professional” versions of the Windows operating system, so you may need to pay to upgrade.

Either way, read up on it and ensure this encryption is switched on. Doing do means that if your computer is lost or stolen, at least you don’t need to worry about a data breach as well as the loss of the hardware.

Think About GDPR and Other Compliance Issues

It doesn’t matter how small your business is – you don’t get a free pass on complying with the law.

The prongs of legislation such as GDPR spread far and wide. For this website alone, I had to spend several days on privacy policies, logging what data I collect and store, and making sure I was registered with the relevant authorities.

This isn’t the place to provide a comprehensive guide to data regulations, which will vary from country to country anyway. (That said, there is a good primer on GDPR here.) Ultimately it is down to you to research what your responsibilities are and ensure you comply.

This IS a thankless task. It takes time and (sometimes) money, and it earns you absolutely nothing. But if you’re a professional, it’s not optional.

One small bright side is that as your freelance business grows, sooner or later you’ll encounter a big client who will want to check the details of your privacy policy or GDPR compliance. Getting it right from the start saves you from dramas at inconvenient times.

Install a VPN

I could write a book on VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), because I spent several years working for a VPN website. VPN services are hugely popular nowadays, in this cybersecurity-conscious world.

VPN

Put very simply, a VPN is a way to route your internet communications through a private server. There are various reasons why you may want to do this. Some are reasons one could consider to be “a bit dodgy” – such as hiding away while downloading illegal movie files, or spoofing your location so you can access sites and services not available in your country.

However, there are lots of legitimate reasons to use a VPN. A huge one for freelancers is to protect your privacy and security whilst using public Wi-Fi. It’s really easy for a hacker to snoop at what you’re doing on these networks, and I personally always use a VPN in hotels and cafés.

Another thing I personally use VPN services for a lot is changing my location, so I appear to be connecting to the internet from a different country. This website has a majority-American audience, while I’m in the UK, so it’s really useful to be able to verify exactly what my readers are seeing in Google searches.

VPNs are inexpensive, or can even be free if you don’t need to use them much. I’d suggest taking a look at Express VPN, which has a great reputation and is installed on my own laptop!

Consider Cybersecurity Insurance

Opinions vary considerably about insurance.

I’m an anxious person, which makes me an insurance broker’s dream client! But I do appreciate some people are more comfortable than I am with taking risks.

If you’re a freelancer, I certainly hope you have basic business insurance? If not you can get a quote from Hiscox here.  Cybersecurity insurance is increasingly available as an add-on or a standalone policy.

Do you need it? It’s not for me to say. However, it’s generally quite inexpensive and will give peace of mind. Much will depend on the type and volume of data you process, but it’s certainly worth serious consideration.

We have a dedicated article on insurance for freelancers here.

Use Antivirus

One debate that never seems to end in the world of tech is whether modern computers need antivirus.

My advice? Yes they do, and that includes Apple Macs.

Antivirus

To be honest, I don’t do enough IT consultancy work these days to have a particularly strong opinion on which antivirus product to use, but I’ve been very happy with Bitdefender in recent years. You can find it for multiple devices (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) here.

Don’t be Silly

When it comes to keeping data safe, the worst disasters I’ve seen in over 20 years in the IT world have been as a result of PEOPLE doing something daft.

Examples: people being taken in by phishing emails or fooled into giving out their passwords as part of a phone scam; Passwords being set to “123456;” Writing thousands of words into a document without saving; Chancing an operating system update and ignoring the bit that says “ensure you have a backup before proceeding.”

And, yes, I’ve done some of these things myself. You live and learn.


Computers are a huge part of life for freelancers. For many of us, they’re the most crucial tool of our trade.

Keeping data safe isn’t particularly exciting, but it is essential. If you’ve read through this article and realised there’s something you’re not doing, please don’t put it off until something bad occurs. Accidents happen, erring is human, and even the biggest companies make mistakes. But ideally you should feel like you did the best you could. Hopefully these tips will help.

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Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com - Ben is a long-established freelancer with a passion for helping other people take control of their destiny and break away from "working for the man." Prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.

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