The importance of cybersecurity in a business setting cannot be understated. Without proper cybersecurity, any business—small, medium, or large, is vulnerable to data leaks, breaches, and financial ruin.
The same goes for freelancers, who may handle sensitive information daily and work with data that may make them targets to cybercriminals everywhere. The point is, many people take cybersecurity for granted. Still, to run a successful business or become a successful freelancer, one must learn proper cybersecurity.
But what is the right way for a business to protect itself, for a freelancer to secure themselves and their data? Why not start with a simple VPN download?
Virtual Private Networks have become increasingly popular over the past decade, which comes to the surprise of no one. VPNs allow users to anonymize their activity on the network, hide their IP addresses, and browse the Internet without worrying about being tracked. So, that said, there’s only one question: how do VPNs work?
Imagine you’re a freelancer and are sitting down at the local coffee shop to work on your client’s latest request. You need the Internet to see the Google Doc they sent you, so naturally, you connect to the free wi-fi the coffee shop advertised.
With one click, you’re connected to the Internet. You can now access the doc. Well, at the cost of your security.
See, public networks, and even some private networks, lack the proper security to protect their users—security safeguards like a required password, a whitelist/blacklist, and a decent encryption standard.
A VPN can fix the underlying problem being a lack of decent security standards on the network. A VPN would essentially cloak the user’s device data, making them invisible on the network, therefore alleviating them of the inherent issues with the network.
But how does this work? What does the process look like? Let’s go over what VPNs do.
First, you must understand what happens without a VPN. Without a VPN, your device is connected to a website through your ISP (internet service provider). Your ISP will give your device an IP address that the website will use to identify you.
It doesn’t sound so bad, right? While this process isn’t inherently nefarious, it does mean that your ISP can see and snoop on your online activity. Furthermore, others on the same network (like the public network mentioned earlier) can also see your activity.
With a VPN, however, your device is routed through a VPN server, meaning that while your data will still pass through your ISP’s server, it will be encrypted. This encryption certifies that your ISP—and anyone on the network—will be unable to read the contents of the data passing through.
With a VPN, no one can read your data: not your ISP, not the websites you visit, not the network admin, and not any cybercriminal on the network hoping to steal your data. This is why VPNs have become a mainstream option for security.
Why Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Should Use VPNs
With that explanation out of the way, let’s talk about why both businesses and freelancers need to use a VPN whenever possible.
Let’s start with businesses and how they can use VPNs to become a better business, rake in more profit, and keep themselves safe.
1. Top-Notch Security
Perhaps the most apparent reason, small and medium-sized businesses need to use a VPN for security. Many companies in the past decade have faced data breach after data breach, and while larger businesses can survive a data breach (Capital One, for example), smaller businesses cannot afford the repercussions a data breach bring.
According to a report published by withlayr.com, 60% of small businesses that experience a data breach or cyber-attack end up going out of business within six months. A depressing but valid reason why any small business should use a VPN whenever possible.
Fortunately, it’s easy to set up business-wide VPNs. And with every employee using a VPN to connect to websites, the chances of a hack or data breach are significantly lowered. Just remember: using a VPN is not a one-time thing. Enabling VPNs — keeping them updated and ready to go — is a key part of cybersecurity.
Also, keep in mind that VPNs cannot protect your business from malware, viruses, ransomware, and other malicious software designed to infect devices and corrupt networks. While VPNs are fantastic for browsing the Internet and encrypting a connection, they weren’t designed to act as an anti-malware/anti-virus solution.
2. Keeping Social Media Safe
Businesses today rely on digital marketing and outreach to gain a sizable audience for their products and services. And what better way to reach an audience than through social media?
The mid-2010s saw an increase in businesses and corporations taking advantage of social media, hopping on trends, and obtaining relevancy by staying topical. And it works! Social media works wonders for gaining an audience. However, if your marketing team is limited to one location, reaching an audience outside that location can be tricky, even with the limitless capabilities of social media.
Why? Well, without traveling to various locations, it’s challenging to find current trends, events, and vice versa. Fortunately, VPNs allow users to change their IP address to mimic one found in other cities or regions.
For this very reason, VPNs are perfect for digital marketing teams, which can enable a VPN, switch to their desired location, and peruse social media, seeing the current topics, trends, and events circulating in that area.
Plus, VPNs add a bit of extra security to social media teams. After all, social media accounts often contain sensitive information about the business. If a hacker were to snoop on someone’s social media activity and hack an account, they could cause a data leak. A VPN helps prevent this.
These are a few of the reasons why smaller businesses should use VPNs as often as possible. From marketing to finances, it’s essential that each employee has a way to anonymize their online activity and feel secure. Any backdoor to the company can be used to wreak havoc.
Why Freelancers Should Use VPNs?
Businesses thrive when they take the initiative and implement proper cybersecurity measures. A secure, organized business is not only efficient but free of data breaches. But what about freelancers?
It’d be foolish to say security isn’t as important for freelancers as it is for businesses. Sure, businesses may contain a larger trove of confidential data, but freelancers handle sensitive data as well—data that would be responsible for data breaches and hacks if stolen.
So when would a freelancer benefit from using a VPN?
1. When Taking Advantage of Public Networks (and Private Networks)
Remember that public network scenario from earlier? The one about a local coffee shop and it’s questionable network security? That’s not just a scenario—it’s a reality for many freelancers who count on public networks to get their work done.
Whenever a freelancer is using a public network, they need to be using a VPN. Without, their device’s data is exposed and susceptible to being watched by cybercriminals sharing the same network. Whether they’re at a coffee shop, a library, or a university, they should be using a VPN.
However, it’s a good habit to use a VPN whenever possible, even when at home. Not every private network contains the latest security protocols or is outfitted with the latest security standards. For this reason, freelancers would do well to treat every network like a public network using a VPN on each one they use. It sounds like a lot of work, but five seconds of enabling the app for guaranteed security is worth it.
2. Surfing the Internet Anonymously
Security is important to any freelancer, but some freelancers value anonymity over anything else. For example, freelance journalists going through off-limits and blocked websites to find information on their latest scoop is a common tale. And to accomplish their goal, they need to stay anonymous, which is where a VPN comes in handy.
Anonymous web surfing also keeps hackers from retrieving details about a freelancer’s connection, such as their IP address, location, and name. And with mean-spirited trucks such as SWATing making the news, it’s important that freelancers do whatever it takes to anonymize their connection while browsing the Internet.
3. Getting Rid of ISP Bandwidth Throttling
Many freelancers prefer spending their work hours in the comfort of their homes. Staying at home means using their private network supplied by their ISP. There is one problem with this, however—one not security-related: throttling.
ISPs may throttle the bandwidth of their users whenever they deem necessary, usually when servers are experiencing strain. However, this throttling can affect a freelancer’s efficiency, slowing down their connection.
Because VPNs route their device’s data through a VPN’s server before sending it to the ISP, the encrypted data becomes invulnerable to the ISP’s bandwidth throttling. In other words, freelancers should use a VPN whenever they fear bandwidth throttling from their ISP.
Other Security Tools Freelancers and Businesses Should Use
A VPN is a versatile tool that can be used in a variety of situations for different reasons. From securing an entire business to helping freelancers access sites otherwise inaccessible without one, VPNs are extremely useful for both freelancers and businesses.
However, a reputable business/freelancer cannot count on VPNs alone, especially when it comes to security. Since they are exposed to increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks, they should be using up-to-date software to secure their devices and data.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for both freelancers and smaller businesses to secure themselves.
Many pieces of malicious software are network-borne, infecting a network in seconds. How do they get on the network? All it takes is a misclick: a click on the wrong site, a sketchy program downloaded by an employee, etc.
Different types of firewalls protect networks from network-borne threats by setting up a perimeter (a firewall) on the network that alerts users when a threat has been detected and turns away useless/suspicious data packets.
All modern Windows and Mac devices come with a firewall built-in. Network-wide firewalls for businesses will need to be set up separately, though they are easy to set up.
2. Email Scanners
After a few years, your email account may start accruing a bunch of spam and junk emails. These emails range from harmless emails that are a bunch of gibberish with a JPEG to malicious emails that attempt to trick and manipulate potential victims into giving out personal information (a process known as phishing).
Even work emails aren’t completely safe from these types of emails. So, to keep your email(s) protected, install an email scanner.
Email scanners sift through your email in an attempt to locate any email that raises a red flag. Whether it’s a harmless spam email or a malicious phishing email, a reputable email scanner will find it and throw it out.
3. `Cybersecurity Training
Both freelancers and businesses rely on proper cybersecurity to stay in business. While it may not seem that way, it’s the truth. If a freelancer were to be hacked and their client’s data leak. As a result, the freelancer would lose that client and may have a hard time finding more work. A business affected by a data leak, on the other hand, has a strong chance of going out of business.
Because both parties rely on cybersecurity to keep the lights on, it’s important both freelancers and small businesses stay up-to-date with the latest cybersecurity trends. Doing this is as simple as signing up for a cybersecurity course.
Business leaders would do well to require participation in cybersecurity training that the business would hold through a third-party class. Freelancers would also do well to sign up for online classes that focus on the basics of cybersecurity or even just read up on the basics of cybersecurity on a reputable site.
Either way, staying secure requires knowledge of the threats surrounding businesses and freelancers, and classes are the best way to learn about them.