All of this means that freelancers are sending and receiving a lot of data over the internet. This data might include personal financial information, valuable intellectual property or even corporate secrets.
Most freelancers work for multiple companies and don’t have their own office. They work out of a room in their house or a remote location. Freelancers may also need to be available even when technically on vacation overseas, at least to answer questions or “put out fires.”
Freelancers, thus, need to be especially careful with both their own data and that of their clients. A breach of trust between a freelancer and a client can end not just that gig but the freelancer’s entire career, especially if they are working in high-end fields such as marketing, executive coaching or, above all, accounting (Online security is particularly important to accountants and freelance bookkeepers).
What Does a VPN Do?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, encrypts the data being sent and received by the freelancer’s computer or other electronic devices. Hackers cannot intercept this data, which is thus kept safe from prying eyes, including the freelancer’s ISP.
The VPN will also mask your IP, and your traffic will appear to websites to be coming from a VPN node, called a Point of Presence, rather than your computer’s actual location.
VPNs are by far the best way to keep yourself secure (and private) when working online. In order to use one, you will need to install a VPN client on your computer, tablet, or phone.
Why Should Freelancers Get a VPN?
So, why should all freelancers have a VPN? Here are some of the reasons to consider.
- It allows you to safely work in public. Freelancers can work from anywhere, but public WiFi is notoriously insecure and unsafe. A VPN allows a freelancer to work from a coffee shop, or from that hotel which has had the same wireless password since it was built.
- You can surf the web anonymously. This means that when you do research for a client, you can do so without getting weird ads or anyone knowing what you are doing. With some clients, this can be important.
- It can make your clients more comfortable. Some clients, in fact, may require freelancers to use the VPN they already have set up for full-time remote workers.
- You can get around online censorship when traveling. If you are on vacation and get an urgent request, you don’t have to worry about the government of the country you are in blocking access to the websites you need or spying on your connection.
- When traveling, you can avoid other geolocation issues, such as the website automatically coming up in the local language rather than your language. Another issue which can happen is that no matter what you try, search engines will give you only resources in the country you are in, not the one you are trying to get information on. In this case, you can use a VPN point of presence to virtually relocate to the country you are trying to research.
- You can get a better connection when traveling if you connect to a local VPN point of presence. However, VPNs can make the connection worse if you are on iffy WiFi. In some cases, you may find that working from a specific location is simply impossible.
- ISPs and hotel networks cannot see when you are accessing file transfer sites. Hotel networks may block torrent sites to improve bandwidth or to avoid any legal questions. ISPs also may throttle them. As file sharing also has legitimate purposes, it’s a good idea to be ready to hide that you are doing it.
- You can safely use remote access to pull files you may have forgotten to get from a desktop or a home or office server before you left. It also provides protection if you are retrieving files from a client’s computer or cloud storage.
What Should You Look for in a VPN?
First of all, avoid free VPNs. If you aren’t paying, you aren’t the customer, you’re the product.
Free VPN networks are notorious for protecting your data from everyone else, then turning around and selling your search history to advertisers themselves. Free VPNs may also have bandwidth limitations. In some cases, you might not have the choice. A high-level client may insist you use their own VPN setup and clients.
What kind of VPN you use depends on what you are trying to do. You should check to see if they have local servers (points of presence) in countries and regions you travel to regularly, as this can improve internet speed.
If you do a lot of research that requires appearing to be in another country, you will need a VPN with servers in that country. If you routinely travel to a country, such as China, which has high levels of censorship and may attempt to block VPNs, find out how well the VPN you are choosing works in that situation.
Always check to see whether the VPN network you are looking at is known to keep logs of your activity, even in aggregate. Some networks will limit the number of devices you can connect at one time. Make sure the VPN has clients for the operating systems you use.
Being a freelancer can be amazing. You can set your own hours and you can work outside on that gorgeous summer day. Using a VPN can help you do these things without compromising your identity or your client’s data.
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