There are many benefits to working as a freelancer: you can set your own working hours, work from home or from a coffee shop, be your own boss, travel anywhere without need vacation time, and so on.
But for all of the advantages that come with online freelancing, there are an equal number of responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is taking action to ensure that you stay safe online.
Too many freelancers are far too careless using the internet in this type of environment, specifically with keeping their personal information and business data secure. The result is, too often, a vulnerability to privacy invasions, identity and data theft, malware, and the list goes on.
This is why it’s so vital to take critically important steps to protect your privacy online as a freelancer. The issue here is that while many people are aware of this necessity, they don’t take any action because they believe that privacy protection is only going to needlessly take up time and perhaps even lower their productivity.
But in reality, there are a wide variety of highly effective steps you can take to protect your privacy online and in a way that does not harm your productivity, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Here are the top ways you can stay safe online while managing your business remotely:
Staying Private on Public Wi-Fi Networks
These days, public Wi-Fi is available almost anywhere you search for it. There are also two kinds of public Wi-Fi networks: unsecured and secured.
An unsecured public Wi-Fi network means that network can be connected to by anyone within a certain radius and without a password or login information. In contrast to this, secured networks require you to register an account and agree to legal terms before you can gain access.
Many people assume that secured Wi-Fi networks are automatically safe, but in reality, you want to be very careful that you stay private and safe with networks that are either secured or unsecured.
Examples of what you can do to stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks are to keep all of your devices disconnected from it when you’re not using it, to avoid accessing any websites with critical personal information (such as your online bank accounts), and to connect to websites via HTTPS, which will encrypt anything you send and receive from any website on the network.
Email encryption is one of the most common sense security procedures to follow in existence and yet many people don’t do it.
The reason why email encryption is so common sense is because it can stop even the most professional of cybercriminals from intercepting your private communications. It also enables you to sign your emails digitally so that your recipients can verify that the incoming messages are really from you. This helps to inhibit the flow of malware and spam that are sent in your name.
The basic way that email encryption works is that you will have a private key and a public key. Only you will have the private key, while the public key is given to anyone you choose.
If someone wants to send you an email meant only for you, they can then encrypt the message using the public key. Once you receive the email, you then decrypt it using your private key. This way, even if someone else were to intercept your email, they would be completely unable to read the contents of it.
Using a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is designed to create an encrypted virtual tunnel between you and a remote server that is operated by the VPN’s service. All of your internet traffic will then be sent through this virtual tunnel to ensure that it is kept secure from anybody and everybody else.
To be more specific, the VPN can encrypt your signal, making it completely unreadable by someone attempting to intercept it. It can also change your IP address to make it look as if you are coming from a different computer or even from an entirely different country.
A good example of a place to use a VPN would be at a Starbucks coffee shop or anywhere else that offers public Wi-Fi. Even if that network is unsecured, if you connect to it with a VPN you can do so with peace of mind knowing that no else will be able to intercept or read your data such as your login information or passwords.
Managing Your Cookies
A cookie is a small text file (usually less than 10 kilobytes) that is written by a web browser about your interactions with any website you’ve visited, such as your login information or anything you bought from the site that is retail.
While cookies may seem like a non-issue since they don’t contain anything that can damage your computer such as malware, in reality, they have a direct impact on your privacy.
For example, you’ve no doubt visited retail websites before to shop for something in particular (such as a pair of shoes, for example), and then when you later exited that site to visit others, you had numerous advertisements for those same pair of shoes showing up all over.
Why did this happen? Simple: cookies.
Right now, your computer is most likely filled with thousands of cookies that were left behind as you went from one website to the next.
These cookies (referred to as third party cookies) are used by companies and corporations looking to gather as much information as they can about you in order to market to you more effectively. Unsurprisingly, this can feel like a violation of your privacy.
Fortunately, each of the major web browsers allow you to block third party cookies while still allowing first party cookies. You can set this in the preferences tab of your web browser.
Being Careful About What You Share Online
Last but not least, and this bears endless repeating, be careful about what you share online.
We commonly use peer-to-peer file (P2P) sharing applications and services to transfer content cross the internet. These P2P applications can be either free or paid, and they can also vary significantly in terms of their speed, storage capacity, and of course, their security.
While file sharing may be common and practical, it also makes you vulnerable to a variety of online threats such as identity theft or putting your personal data at risk. Even if you’re only using data with people you know personally, you can’t always truly verify the identities of those individuals online.
In fact, it’s borderline impossible to verify sources on file sharing applications. In the case of illegal downloads, people download content without knowing the source at all, which puts your privacy and personal data in serious jeopardy.
The simplest answer to protect the safety of your information when you are using file sharing applications is to always know what you are sending and what you are trying to download. Never send sensitive information via a file sharing service, and verify internet security software is installed, activated, and updated to protect you against downloading anything malicious.
Another step to protect yourself from accidentally downloading malicious content through file sharing applications is to use a firewall, or a network security system that is designed to control incoming and outgoing traffic based on security rules that you set.
While many operating systems come installed with a firewall, others do not, so it’s up to you to find out if you have a built-in one already.
The Bottom Line
Each of the above tips are quick and yet effective strategies that a freelancer should take to protect their online privacy and in a way that would not be obstructive to their productivity. The time lost to deploying and maintaining smart preventative processes is nothing compared to the anguish you’ll feel when malware creeps into your laptop and proceeds to destroy your life - at least that’s what it can feel like.
Dan Fries is a freelance writer and full stack Rust developer. He looks for convergence in technology trends, with specific interests in cyber security and micromobility . Dan enjoys snowboarding and is based in Hong Kong with his pet beagle, Teddy.