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The Gig Economy Is a Cybersecurity Firestorm

This guest blog was contributed by Devin Partida is the Editor-in-Chief of Devin's work has been featured on Security Boulevard, AT&T Cybersecurity and Hackernoon.

Devin Partida

The gig economy is a huge success today, but it poses some concerning security risks businesses need to be aware of. Without precautions, businesses can find themselves exposed to data breaches and vulnerabilities resulting from poorly managed freelance relationships. So what can businesses do to ensure strong cybersecurity in the gig economy?

Gig Economy Cybersecurity Risks

Freelancers and contractors are vulnerable to a few specific cybersecurity risks. Some of these apply to employees, as well, so resolving them can go a long way.

Unregulated Data Access

One of the most common cybersecurity risks in the gig economy is unregulated data access. When businesses hire a freelancer, consultant or contractor and don’t revoke their data access at the end of their contract, that creates unregulated access. It can also occur during a contract period if the freelancer is given unrestricted access to a business’s data.

Studies show an estimated 87% of contractors still have access to clients’ data after their contracts end. It isn’t always possible for a contractor to cut off access on their end — that responsibility usually falls on businesses. Often, only a business’s IT department can set the access permissions of a contractor’s account.

Unregulated data access during and after a contract period can leave businesses’ data vulnerable to theft and abuse if a current or former contractor gets hacked.

Unsecured Devices and Wi-Fi

Unsecured devices and networks are a common cybersecurity issue in remote work. They pose a particular risk in the gig economy.

Most freelancers simply don’t have the cybersecurity resources businesses have. As a result, contractors are somewhat limited in their ability to protect their devices and internet connections. Poorly secured devices and networks can create doorways for unauthorized access.

High Vulnerability to Phishing

The gig economy can create new opportunities for bad actors to launch phishing attacks and scams. This threat impacts both freelancers and businesses.

Scammers may pose as freelancers on gig economy hiring websites. They can steal money and credentials by pretending to be a legitimate contractor.

Alternatively, contractors themselves may be specifically targeted by phishing attacks that take advantage of their lack of cybersecurity.

Contractors can also be targeted by scams posing as legitimate businesses that result in data theft, extortion and identity theft. All of these potential threats can impact freelancers' past and present clients.

Tips for Improving Contractor Cybersecurity

The cybersecurity risks of the gig economy are serious, but businesses can take action to defend themselves.

Hire Employees

Hiring gig workers may be convenient at times, but it isn’t always the best choice, particularly if cybersecurity is a concern. If a business has a long-standing relationship with a freelancer, it may want to consider hiring that person as an employee.

While employees generally cost more, the commitment associated with an employee contract allows businesses to follow tighter security standards. Being an employee also incentivizes workers to care more about staying safe online and protecting their devices.

Provide Clear Security Guidelines

Businesses can include minimum security guidelines in freelancer contracts. Depending on the task being outsourced, contractors may receive either a service contract or a partnership agreement. A partnership agreement is a type of contract that includes the responsibilities of each party, which provides an opportunity to set cybersecurity requirements.

Outlining these guidelines is beneficial for both parties. They explain what cybersecurity practices are expected of the freelancer and what tools and resources the business will provide to ensure security. If a breach occurs, the partnership agreement can be referenced in legal proceedings if necessary.

Prioritize Access Management

Access management is critical in the gig economy — it’s the key to ensuring contractors don’t have unregulated access to sensitive data during and after their contract period. It also reduces the risk of data compromise if a contractor falls victim to a cyberattack.

Businesses can improve access management through monitoring. Keep track of what contractors have access to and how long their contract period is. At the end of their contract, all access should be revoked unless the contract is renewed. During the contract period, freelancers should only have access to the minimum amount of data they need to perform their jobs.

Businesses can also offer basic phishing awareness training for freelancers to reduce the risk of a data breach. Pay particular attention to strategies for spotting phishing content online. Training freelancers to identify and avoid phishing content protects the minimized data they have access to during and after their contract period.

Utilize Network Segmentation

Network segmentation is a great strategy for improving cybersecurity, especially in the gig economy. Businesses can break up their network into isolated chunks to prevent hackers from ever accessing the entire network. A segment can be dedicated to freelancers, isolating their access from the rest of the network.

This segmentation minimizes the potential widespread impact of a cyberattack. Even if a contractor’s credentials are compromised, the hacker would only have access to the freelancer segment of the network.

Encourage VPN Use

Freelancers can protect their devices and internet connections by using a virtual private network (VPN). Many people use VPNs to hide their location, but these networks can also be useful for keeping activity and user info private. Data transmitted by a VPN is encrypted, stopping hackers from snooping on users’ data and activity.

A VPN can protect freelancers from attacks specifically targeting gig workers. It can also prevent unauthorized access to their internet connection. Since all information is encrypted and users are anonymized on VPNs, freelancers can keep their clients’ data private from parties attempting to track them online.

Ensuring Security in the Gig Economy

The gig economy is booming right now, but it creates some serious cybersecurity risks. Businesses can continue working with freelancers without compromising their security by taking a few key precautions. Steps like phishing training, VPN use and clear security expectations can help everyone stay safe in the gig economy.



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