How to Secure Your Home Internet

Your friends and family may be jealous of what they imagine working as a freelancer is like — no boss, an open schedule, working from the couch, a uniform of sweats and pajamas, and unlimited opportunity for money. 

But we know it’s actually much more complicated. Freelancers have to manage and create all the same systems and tools that a company typically offers its employers. You have to be your own accountant, tech support, and sales team — on top of the job itself. In addition, it’s up to you to create a distinctive workspace, seek out jobs, manage tasks from a variety of bosses, be proactive about payroll, and find the motivation to remain productive at home. 

Because most freelancers rely on the internet and conduct the majority of their work and client relations online, it’s essential to have a strong, secure internet connection. Without a company internet network or IT team, you’ll have to be proactive about your security.

We’ve consulted with ethical hackers, network and security experts, and even spoke with some of our own team members with freelancing experience to build a robust guide to protecting your internet connection, hard work, and client data. 

Here’s a quick checklist to sum up some essential steps to securing your internet as a freelancer. We’ll dive into why each step is important and how to execute.

  • Find fast speeds from a reliable internet provider
  • Use complex passwords and secure your accounts
  • Buy your own wireless router and customize the settings
  • Invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for ultimate protection on your internet connection
  • Update software and equipment regularly
  • Organize your digital storage system and backup files regularly

Start With a Reliable Internet Connection

One of the most essential parts of your home business is a reliable internet connection. No matter your freelance trade, a slow or inconsistent internet connection could impede your work and cost you potential income. In fact, some freelance gigs, like online tutoring, will ask you to pass an internet speed test before hiring you. In the case of tutoring specifically, this is to ensure you won’t have connection problems with the webcam or tutoring platform.

Your exact internet needs will depend on what your work demands. For freelancers who are mostly writing in documents and emailing, a lower internet speed of 25 Mbps or less should be enough. If you’re frequently video calling or conferencing, you’ll want a faster download speed to handle HD communication — likely closer to 50 Mbps. If you’re a designer, you might need the higher upload speeds that fiber internet technology can offer to support uploading large files and visual projects. The exact options available to you will vary by address, but we can offer some general direction.

Need more specific guidance? We’ve consulted with network experts, conducted online research, and analyzed data from the FCC to build a speed guide. First, count up all the devices that connect to the internet (from your phone to your smart doorbell), then factor in the activities you use the internet for. The intersection will give you an approximate starting point for internet speed.

Light UseModerate UseHigh UseVery High Use
1-3 devices5-10 Mbps15 Mbps25 Mbps50 Mbps
4-8 devices15 Mbps25 Mbps50 Mbps100 Mbps
8-10 devices25 Mbps50 Mbps100 Mbps150 Mbps
10+ devices50 Mbps100 Mbps150 Mbps200+ Mbps

Light use: emails, web browsing, social media, SD video streaming
Moderate use: music streaming, occasional online gaming, streaming HD video on one or two devices. 
High use: Multiple devices streaming HD video simultaneously, real-time gaming, video conferencing. 
Very high use: Multiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously, large file downloading, real-time gaming, video conferencing. 

Though it may be more expensive, a reliable internet connection is an important investment in your business. As several of the former freelancers on our staff attested, freelance work means there’s no IT department to get you back up and running. In the words of one writer: “When your internet doesn’t work, you don’t work.” 

To find the best internet in your area, search the internet for providers in your city, inquire with neighbors, and check your address among top internet providers. 

Let’s Talk Taxes: If your home has a qualifying dedicated office space in your home, a portion of your internet and utilities bills can be deducted from your taxes. That portion is the percentage of your home that is occupied by the office. For example, if your office occupies 15% of your home’s square footage, you can deduct 15% of your bill. And our teammates with freelance experience reminded us that it’s best to file your taxes quarterly.

Complex passwords and secure sign-ins

Even if you aren’t the type to leave your password on a sticky note for your nemesis to find, your password could still be vulnerable. Massive security breaches and password leaks occur every year at sites as big as YahooLinkedIneHarmony, etc. — potentially exposing your login credentials to hackers. If you use the same password for multiple websites, then even the accounts that weren’t exposed become vulnerable too. This could mean the modes of payment you use with clients (online bank accounts, PayPal, etc.) were compromised, and possibly the online storage systems where you keep client work and information.

See if your information has been leaked: You can check to see whether your email has been compromised in a data breach at haveibeenpwned.com. The name may be silly, but the site is serious. If you enter your email, the site will list the specific breaches that your email may have been exposed in. If you find potential breaches: Don’t use the same password you had for that account on any others, change passwords if you still have an account with that website, and consider using a password manager.

The easiest way to secure your internet, work, and online storage is with a strong password — a long combination of symbols, numbers, and letters. That might sound obvious, but in practice it’s much easier (and very common) to just use the same password for everything. Gabe Turner, Director of Security at Security Baron, recommends password managers to help keep your accounts secure. Turner told us, “Many people use the same password or a variation on the same password for all of their accounts. This makes it really easy for hackers to access your online accounts. Instead, you should create a long, unique and complicated password for each account. To help you remember them all and add more user authentication, employ a password manager. Not only will it sync your passwords across all of your devices, but it will also send a passcode to your phone to make sure you’re the right person accessing your accounts. Some even have multi-factor authentication which includes biometrics like fingerprint or facial recognition.”

It’s pretty impossible to create and remember unique passwords for every log in you have to create. A password manager can keep track of all that, and help you make complex passwords that will strengthen the security of your accounts. A good password manager may cost between $12 and $60 for a year. We’d generally warn you away from the free, browser-based password managers, because anyone with access to your computer or email could view them. For example, with the Chrome password saving feature, if anyone ever hacked your email address they’d have access to all the other passwords you’ve saved in that Google drive — potentially including online banking accounts and the credit card information that Chrome can also store for auto-fill. Needless to say, securing the data of you and your clients is essential to your freelance business and strong passwords are a simple step. 

Key Takeaways

  • Check to see if any of your accounts have been compromised in a data breach on haveibeenpwned.com
  • Create complex and unique passwords for all you important accounts
  • Consider a password manager to store and secure login credentials

Ramp up your router

Your router connects the internet service from your provider to your devices via WiFi, which makes it both the first line of defense and the perfect target for hackers and harmful software. There are a few easy ways to secure your router and ensure it’s not a vulnerability for your business.

First, we recommend you purchase your own router, rather than rent one from your internet provider. The routers that internet providers lease are typically lower quality, and because there’s a fair chance most of your neighbors are renting the same one, it’s likely a hacker is familiar with the hardware. The best routers typically have built in firewalls and more security settings you can enable as well.

The 411 on Firewalls: A firewall is a type of security system that filters through all the data coming in and out from the internet, and blocks any suspicious activity. Within your router’s setting, there will be a page labeled ‘security’ or ‘firewall’ and you simply select ‘enable’ to turn it on. You can add additional firewall rules about the sorts of things you want it to filter for too. If your router doesn’t have a firewall built in, you can purchase it separately.

When first setting up your WiFi network, never keep the default network name (also called the SSID) and password. Often, factory default log-in details are standard across models and can be found on the internet. This is also a good time to set up a separate network and password for guests to use — the fewer people on the same connection you conduct business on, the better. Your router should come with a manual that can walk you through configuring your settings. Typically you’ll enter 192.168.1.1 (or a similar variation) into a web browser and then input the username and password (found either in the manual or printed on your router). If you’ve misplaced your manual, you can usually find a digital copy on the internet. 

Here are some other router settings we’d recommend to help secure your connection:

☑ Enable network encryption. When setting your network password, there’s an option to select a security level called WPA or WPA2. This is just an upgraded level of encryption that is harder to hack.
☑ Create a separate network for guests. If your router supports it, typically in a ‘guest network’ or ‘allow guest access’ tab, you can create a separate access point for guests. This adds additional protection against any malware or suspicious activity your guests may have on their device.
☑ Hide your network name. Instead of your network popping up for anyone connecting to the internet nearby, users will have to know and enter the network name directly. In the network settings, there should be an option to make the SSID (network name) hidden. 
☑ Disable remote access. By turning off ‘remote access’ or ‘remote administration’ you prevent people from accessing your router settings from a device not connection to your wireless network. Basically, they have to know your network password to access your router.

Even after you’ve got your router all set up and secure, you’ll still have to be proactive about its security. Doug Brennan, a digital security expert at Digital Addicts, told us “As with any other device, routers can have exploitable weaknesses in their software, allowing hackers to access your network with minimal effort. Thankfully, these types of weaknesses are quickly patched through firmware updates. But they’ll only take effect if you keep your router updated.” Some routers have the option to auto-update their software, but you’ll have to switch that setting on.

Invest in a VPN

Securing client data can be a big burden for freelancers. One of the most sure-fire ways to secure your internet connection is with a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. As information travels to and from the internet, a VPN will encrypt and protect that information. In other words, prying eyes can’t track your connection or access your data with a VPN in place.

“VPNs encrypt your web traffic in a tunnel, replacing your IP address with a new one. This is extremely useful if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network, as [they] makes you much more susceptible to hacking. I recommend getting a VPN with a kill switch. That means that if the VPN fails, all of your web activity will automatically shut down, protecting your traffic.”

Gabe Turner, Director of Content at Security Baron.

You can connect to your VPN from anywhere and on any internet connection. This creates the kind of protection your router might offer at home and allows you the freedom to work on other WiFi networks. One of the biggest perks of freelance work is being able to work from anywhere that has WiFi, like at a coffee shop, and a VPN allows you to do that without compromising the security of your clients and work. 

There are many VPN services you can purchase, typically for around $5 to $12 per month. Virtual Private Network, NordVPN, Express VPN, and Private Internet Access, all have transparent policies, robust security, minimal impact on internet speed, and are user friendly.

Maintain updated equipment and secure storage

Basically — stop hitting the “not now” button on your computer’s system update notification. When existing software, like a browser application or operating system, has been around for awhile there’s a fair chance it’s been exposed by hackers as vulnerable. The companies that run these systems are responsible for releasing updates that combat that vulnerability and revamp the security. To maximize that security, though, you have to be active about keeping that equipment updated. Jason Glassberg, an ethical hacker and co-founder of Casaba Security, told us that, “The best way to protect both you personally and your employer is by using a current model PC or laptop with fully updated software and antivirus,” also recommending that users “don’t use that computer for non-work related activities.”

Beyond the basics of your computer and router, you’ll want to keep an updated storage system, too. Whether that’s a physical hard drive or a digital cloud — ensuring your storage and filing system is secure and competent is essential for organizing and protecting client work. For most people, a free system as simple as Google Drive or Dropbox could do the trick. Online cloud storage has the advantage of easy collaboration, sharing, and backup storage options. Physical hard drives are expensive and subject to wear, but potentially more physically secure than a digital option. The best for you may depend on the kind of work you do and the sensitivity of the information you handle — the more personal information you work with, the more it makes sense to go with physical storage.

What’s next?

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