How to protect valuable client data when travelling
As a self-employed individual, regular business travel is part and parcel of the job. In many professions, it may also mean taking responsibility for sensitive or private data.
Clients will often issue strict guidelines on the storage and use of their digital data - therefore, both physical and cyber security is something to consider carefully to uphold your professional reputation.
Tips for protecting client and customer data
We’ve pulled together some key security tips for businesses, taking you beyond the basics. Following this guide will provide the peace of mind you need when travelling for business with important devices and data in tow.
Without a back-up policy in place, leaving valuable historical data and current work on one machine is a huge risk. All your important data is vulnerable to flood, fire and both real-world and digital theft. If a device is lost, damaged or stolen without a proper back up in place, your data will be gone - and potentially used against you. Therefore, get in the habit of always backing up your data to the cloud, or to a second device, before the worst happens. Read more about the three main types of data backup – local, online and hybrid – on our in-depth guide to data backup options for professionals.
File encryption is the process of scrambling data during its journey from source to destination. It was once reserved for only professional cyber security experts. However, now any digitally savvy person can apply clever data encryption technology to their email and files, protecting the information held therein. Various tools are available that take the hassle out of encryption, including open source plug-ins and in-system programs.
For some people, remembering a password can be a challenge. To make sure they’re never caught out, they often scribble their passwords down on Post-it notes and stick them to their computers. This is a surprisingly common error that leaves your precious data vulnerable to strangers passing by in cafés or departure lounges.
As well as storing your passwords in your mind, there are other steps you can take to strengthen their protective powers. Avoid children’s or partners’ names and birthdays, or anything else that may be gleaned from a quick social media search. Use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Also, try using a ‘passphrase’ rather than a password by turning an easily remembered phrase or lyric into a mnemonic password. For example, the mnemonic used to remember the colours of the rainbow, ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain,’ becomes ‘roygbiv’, the beginnings of a strong passphrase.
One of the easiest methods of securing your data is to introduce two-factor authentication, also known as a two-step verification. It’s commonly used now in online banking – and is essentially, an extra layer of protection helps protect your files from hackers. As well as using your usual username and password to access files, whether online or stored in your machine, you’ll also use a second ‘factor.’ This will typically be a new code each time, sent to a secondary device – most likely your mobile phone.
When using a clients’ Wi-Fi, or the free Wi-Fi services offered by trains, cafés and hotels, it’s essential to be aware of the potential travel risks. At home, or even back in the office, Wi-Fi security remains a concern.
- Under no circumstances should you use public Wi-Fi to share or store any potentially sensitive information. It’s likely unencrypted and there exists a risk that someone monitoring the connection can get hold of that information.
- Ensure your own wireless network is properly secured with a password and be sure to change it regularly. This will stop unauthorised users both from trying to connect to your service for free, and from accessing sensitive or private information.
- Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your activity during connections to unknown networks.
- You can also hide your Wi-Fi from view, so anyone looking for a vulnerable connection simply can’t see it.
Protecting your reputation against data loss from cyber attacks
If the worst happens and you suffer a data breach as a self-employed person, you may find you’re liable for financial costs associated with the loss. It’s wise to protect yourself and your business against such an eventuality.
Cyber insurance is increasingly regarded as a key business cost. A payout from this type of insurance might be used to cover the costs of restoring lost data in the event of a cyber attack. It could also be used to cover legal defence costs and/or damages, should you face legal action as a result of the data breach or theft. In extreme circumstances, you may need to raise a ransom to ‘buy back’ the lost data from cyber criminals, which can also be covered by this type of insurance.
As a freelancer or contractor, the safety of your own and your clients’ data should be paramount, because the cost of error is simply too great. The importance of watertight cyber security and protection from digital hackers and thieves is something even the MOD is working to promote. By staying informed and alert, you can look after your data at home or on the move.
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