Digital Security for the Self-Employed: Staying Safe Without an IT Team

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Today, self-employed individuals often juggle multiple roles, including that of an IT manager. Navigating the complex digital security landscape can be challenging without a dedicated IT team. However, the good news is that you don’t need to be a tech guru to protect yourself online. This article provides straightforward and actionable tips to help you stay safe.

Create Strong Passwords: Your First Line of Defense

Why This Matters to You

Passwords act like keys for your online accounts, from email to online banking. A weak password is like leaving your house door unlocked. It makes it easy for hackers to get in and take your personal information or money. In the worst-case scenario, weak passwords can lead to problems like identity theft or legal issues.

The Anatomy of a Strong Password

A strong password combines upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. The longer and more complex it is, the harder it is for hackers to crack it. For example, instead of using “password,” a stronger alternative could be “P@ssW0rD!2023.”

Actionable Tips

  • Use a password manager: Remembering many complex passwords can be daunting. But password managers can generate, retrieve, and store robust passwords for you. They encrypt your password database with a master password—the only passcode you must remember.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a password, username, and something only the user can access, like a mobile phone. It makes it difficult for hackers to gain unauthorized access even if they crack or steal your password.
  • Regularly update passwords: Cybersecurity is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. Make it a habit to change your passwords every 3-6 months. Some password managers have features that remind you to do this.
  • Avoid using personal information: Never use readily available information, such as your name, birthday, or username, in your passwords. Hackers can use your public data to brute-force your accounts easier.
  • Be cautious with security questions: Sometimes, anyone can find or guess their answers (like your mother’s maiden name or how you called your first pet). Be creative with your answers or treat them like additional passwords.

Be Cautious While Browsing: Not All Websites Are Safe

Why This Matters to You

Navigating the internet is like walking through a bustling city. While there are many safe neighborhoods, some areas are better to avoid. As you wouldn’t wander in an unfamiliar town, you shouldn’t browse the internet without taking precautions. One wrong click could expose you to cyber threats, including malware, phishing scams, and identity theft.

What to Look Out For

When you’re online, be careful. Be cautious if a website looks old, has many pop-ups, or asks for your personal info for no reason. These signs could mean the site is not safe. Trust your gut—if something feels wrong, it likely is.

Actionable Tips

  • Check for HTTPS: Before entering personal information or making an online purchase, double-check the website’s URL. If it starts with “https://,” that’s a good sign. The ‘s’ stands for secure, meaning your data will be encrypted during transmission.
  • Choose a secure browser: Your browser is your gateway to the internet, so make sure it’s safe. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari are reputable browsers with robust security features like automatic updates and phishing protection.
  • Be wary of clickbait: Sensational headlines or offers that seem too good to be true are often bait to lure you into malicious sites. Always think twice before clicking on such links, especially if they’re from sources you don’t recognize.
  • Use a VPN for extra security: A Virtual Private Network (VPN), often associated with online privacy and security, serves as a secure tunnel for your data. When browsing, especially on public Wi-Fi, a VPN encrypts your data, making it more difficult for hackers to intercept it. This added layer of protection becomes particularly useful if you work from cafes or other public spaces, where the need for a reliable VPN for hackers solution becomes evident.
  • Regularly clear cookies and browsing history: Cookies can store information about your browsing habits, and this data could be used against you in the wrong hands. Make it a habit to clear your cookies and browsing history regularly.
  • Don’t ignore browser warnings: Modern browsers can detect potentially harmful sites. If you see a warning message, heed it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Scan Files for Viruses: Don’t Open the Door to Malware

Why This Matters to You

Think of your computer as your online office. You wouldn’t want someone sick to walk into your workplace, right? The same goes for your computer. Be careful and scan files for viruses when you get something in emails, downloads, or USB sticks. Infected files can slow down your computer or even lock your files and ask for money to unlock them.

What Could Go Wrong?

If your computer gets infected, you’re not risking your data only. The malware could spread to other devices if you’re connected to a network. It could be disastrous if you work on a project with others or store sensitive client information on your computer.

Actionable Tips

  • Use antivirus software: The first line of defense is having a robust antivirus program. Ensure it’s from a reputable provider and update it for the latest protection.
  • Scan before opening: Whenever you download a new file or receive one via email, take a moment to scan it with your antivirus software. It’s especially crucial if the file comes from an unknown or untrusted source.
  • Be skeptical of email attachments: Phishing emails often come disguised as legitimate messages but carry malicious attachments. If an email seems suspicious or you don’t recognize the sender, it’s better to err on the side of caution and not open attachments or click links.
  • Use real-time scanning: Many antivirus programs offer real-time scanning features that automatically scan files as you download or open them. Enable this feature for continuous protection.
  • Check file extensions: Be cautious of extensions commonly associated with executable files, such as .exe, .bat, or .msi. These can run code on your computer and are often used in malicious attacks.
  • Secure your email: Use email services with built-in malware and virus scanning. It adds a layer of security to your digital communications.
  • Regularly update your software: Software developers often release security patches. Keeping your software up-to-date protects you from known vulnerabilities that malware could exploit.

Regularly Update Your Computer: An Ounce of Prevention

Why This Matters to You

Think of your computer as a strong building. Over time, it gets weak spots. Like you’d fix those spots, you need to update your computer’s software. If you don’t, you leave a door open for hackers to destroy your system.

The Risks of Not Updating

Not updating your computer can be risky. It’s not just about a slow computer or minor problems. You could get harmful software, lose your data, or even have your identity stolen. Hackers look for old software to break into.

Actionable Tips

  • Enable automatic updates: Most operating systems, like Windows and macOS, can download and install updates automatically. It ensures that your system is always up-to-date with the latest security patches.
  • Update all software: It’s not just your operating system that needs updating. Software like Adobe Reader, Microsoft Office, and even your web browser have vulnerabilities that must be patched. Make it a habit to update all the software you use regularly.
  • Check for updates manually: While automatic updates are convenient, they’re not foolproof. Sometimes, updates can fail to install due to network issues or other glitches. Make it a practice to manually check for updates at least once a month to ensure you haven’t missed any crucial patches.
  • Prioritize critical updates: Some updates are more important than others. Security updates, for example, you should install as soon as possible, while feature updates can usually wait.
  • Be cautious with third-party software: If you use software from a less-known developer, read reviews and check its reputation before updating. Some malicious software poses as updates to infect your system.
  • Schedule updates during downtime: Sometimes, updates require a system restart or make your computer temporarily unusable. Schedule these for times when you’re not working to avoid disruptions.
  • Stay informed: Subscribe to newsletters or follow social media channels of software you use frequently. They often announce important updates and what they entail so that you can prepare accordingly.

Secure Your Wi-Fi: Your Gateway to the Internet

Why This Matters to You

Your home Wi-Fi is connected to all your network devices. If it’s not secure, hackers can get in and gain unauthorized access, while your neighbors could piggyback on your connection.

What’s at Stake?

If someone accesses your Wi-Fi network without permission, they can use your internet and get into your devices. It means your computer, phone, and IoT devices like your smart thermostat. Hackers can steal your info, spy on you, or try to harm you.

Actionable Tips

  • Change default settings: The first thing you should do after setting up your Wi-Fi router is to change the default username and password. Anyone could find these credentials online and use them to access your router and change its settings.
  • Enable WPA3 security: Always use the latest security protocols for your Wi-Fi network. WPA3 is currently the most secure option, offering stronger encryption and better protection against brute-force attacks.
  • Create a guest network: If visitors need to use your Wi-Fi, set up a separate guest network. It prevents them from accessing your primary network, where your sensitive data is.
  • Regularly update your router’s firmware: Router manufacturers often release updates that fix security vulnerabilities. Make sure your router’s firmware is up-to-date to benefit from these improvements.
  • Disable WPS: While Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) makes connecting new devices to your network easier, it’s also easier for hackers to exploit. Turn off this feature in your router settings.
  • Monitor connected devices: Regularly check the list of devices connected to your network. If you see any unfamiliar devices, it could be a sign that someone has gained unauthorized access.
  • Use a strong and unique password: Your Wi-Fi password should mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using easily guessable information like birthdays or names.
  • Enable network encryption: Besides using WPA3, you can also use a VPN on your router to make your Wi-Fi connections even safer.
  • Limit the range of your Wi-Fi: Adjust the settings on your router to limit the range of your Wi-Fi network only to cover your living area. It makes it harder for outsiders to connect to your network.

The Bottom Line

Online safety isn’t for big companies only. If you work for yourself, you can also stay safe online. Create strong passwords, be careful what you click, check files for malicious software, keep your computer updated, and lock your Wi-Fi. Doing these things can help you avoid online dangers. Stay safe!

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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