For many freelancers, many of the guidelines in the Freelancer’s Guide to Cybersecurity Checklist don’t require the purchase of much, if anything. But some areas, like encryption, could use a little attention, and other areas might need an upgrade for you to fully secure your devices. Never fear, we are budget conscious here at DCC, and here are some of our favorite things. (Most things on this page are free, but our summer business development intern signed us up as an affiliate, so for those few things here that are not free we want to let you know that as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.)
The Cybersecurity Basics
Cybersecurity doesn’t need to be complex or expensive, and privacy is the best place to start. Opt for a browser and search engine combination that will not track you on the internet or sell your data to third parties by pairing the Mozilla Firefox browser with the DuckDuckGo search engine.
Encrypt your email and your data in transit with ProtonMail and Proton Virtual Private Network for high-level privacy and anonymity. Tunnel Bear is another VPN that is an effective, and, let’s face it, really cute option for VPN coverage (the service roars and shows a tunneling bear when it activates—you are dead inside if that doesn’t make you smile).
Don’t plug your phone into random public (possibly compromised) charging strips and kiosks. The same cord that charges your phone also transfers your data. I charge my mobile devices without any risk of hacking / uploading viruses with the widely available universal Porta Pow 3rd Gen USB Data Blocker.
Monitor the Dark Web Using the Clearnet
Breaches will happen. When prevention measures fail and your data is involved in a breach, you want to be alerted. You can manually check Have I Been Pwned, or you can have Mozilla Firefox Monitor alert you when your information surfaces in a breach.
For more information on breaches and how to address them, read Have You Been Pwned? Probably Yes, So Here’s What You Do.
Kill It with Fire
. . . or store it for the required post-project timespan with Iron Mountain or a similar service. Your client or institution or the regulatory process may require you destroy records immediately at the end of a project . . . or retain them in a secure manner for years. Be clear on exactly what your store/destroy obligation is. Either way, there are services that will secure and destroy or just flat-out destroy records at your instruction in a manner that fulfills your legal obligations.
They have cute names like Alexa and Siri, but they’re bugs, listening devices, and they are recording you in your home. Ick. And your laptop may be no more secure, so cover that camera with a webcam cover and mute that mic with a mic block (but note that there is dispute about how effective these are given the complexity of speakers and microphones on computers). There are plenty of options, most of which are super inexpensive.
Not optional and generally not expensive. Don’t skimp. We use both McAfee and Kaspersky products. For an overview of antivirus software, read “The Best Antivirus Protection for 2019,” PC magazine, 09 May 2019.
Keep It under Your Hat—Not on a Post-It Stuck to Your Monitor
Do you want to keep everything in one place online so you can sync across devices, from passwords to credit card numbers (yikes!), or are you okay with the (safer) option of storing them on your computer in a password-protected app? Or maybe you need to share some passwords with others, while some you want to keep private. So many options! First see what options your browser (but read this bit about stealer malware first) and antivirus software provide, then read on at PC Magazine for the full list of top options. “The Best Free Password Managers for 2019,” PC Magazine, 15 February 2019.
Our crew here at DCC uses a variety of options, but our one recommendation is to store as little as possible online, because the more you rely on the cybersecurity (or lack thereof) of others, the more potentially vulnerable you may be. Don’t keep your eggs all in one basket.
You need to back up that hard drive, and most folks do it to a cloud service or an external drive. Thumb drives are not appropriate options—they are easily misplaced and more easily corrupted than other options.
Don’t laugh—super-secure storage facilities are A Thing. If you want a physically secure location in which to store digital devices and similar items, check locally for businesses that specifically cater to your needs.
Cloud storage means you share space on servers somewhere. That’s all it means. For next level security concerns—like HIPAA compliance—contact the service for specific security measures they employ.
We back up to a Western Digital external drive, and it has served us well. But we do not travel with it or bounce it off the walls of the office to kill time. When looking at external drives, consider storage size, physical size, and durability. If you travel a lot you will need something different from, say, someone storing their drive on their desk.
I managed a biomedical informatics group at an academic research institution, and I ♥ REDCap. It is secure yet flexible. If you have access to REDCap and are using a spreadsheet to capture data, I genuinely do not know what you are thinking, nor do I want to. Contact your biomedical informatics group and book an information session to learn more.
More Information on Select Topics
While Virtual Private Network Services should be part of every freelancer’s secure network, some of these other topics we touched on in our webinar may be of interest to freelancers who handle some of their more advanced IT and deal directly with hosting services.
Updated 16 December 2019.