As of late 2017, an estimated 36 percent of the American workforce was made up entirely of freelancers, a number projected to grow to include the majority by 2027. This growth would not be possible without the modern industrial revolution that is technology and the Internet. By 2009, the Internet economy itself had created 1.2 million jobs and, last year 71 percent of freelancers said the amount of work they obtained online increased.

With this revolution, however, comes the question of the ever-intangible place where all of this important work exists.

Digital strategy and research consultant Ismail Jadun created World Backup Day (March 31st) to increase awareness for businesses and individuals who may not realize how important it is to regularly backup their data. According to Jadun, World Backup Day began when someone on Reddit lost their hard drive and wished someone had reminded them to back up.

This individual isn’t alone: 30 percent of people have never backed up their devices once, and more than half say they know someone or have themselves lost precious files.

Why backing up your data is important

What makes backing up so important? Put simply, data loss is more common than you might think. The reasons for data loss include losing or damaging your device, device theft or hardware failure, ransomware, and data breaches. According to Consolidated Technologies, Inc., the top 10 causes of data loss are as follows:

  • Human Error
  • Viruses & Malware
  • Hard Drive Damage
  • Power Outages
  • Device Theft
  • Liquid Damage
  • Disasters
  • Software Corruption
  • Hard Drive Formatting
  • Hackers and Insiders

Internet and cybercrime resulting in data breaches, specifically, are on the rise. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), over the last five years, there have been an average of more than 280,000 complaints per year that “address a wide array of Internet scams affecting victims across the globe.” In 2017, data breaches cost U.S. businesses $7 million.

When asked about the most common type of cybercrime, Law Enforcement Officer and Cyber Crimes Investigator Sgt. Justin Feffer stated, “Business email compromise (BEC) and hacked accounts due to the theft of stolen passwords are the two most common and easiest cybercrimes to prevent.” BEC attacks, he explains, “involve the use of targeted emails asking the victim to wire funds for a fraudulent transaction.”

Technology has made the fight to protect data both easier and more difficult. “Computers and modern technology have proven a double edged sword in the fight against crime,” says Feffer. “Tools such as TOR (The Onion Router), dark web marketplaces, cryptocurrencies, robust mobile device encryption, and encrypted communications services have created extreme challenges to law enforcement.”

Whether you work as a freelance writer, a video editor, designer, a translator, or something else, backing up your data properly has essentially become non-negotiable.

Backup best practices to follow

There are a number of ways to keep your data secure, but following a proper backup protocol is the only virtually guaranteed way to protect your data, regardless of external threats or circumstances.

The 3-2-1 Strategy

A trustworthy backup system should be based on what’s known as the 3-2-1 strategy.

A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least three total copies of your data, two of which are local but on different mediums (read: devices), and at least one copy off-site.

Using this strategy means that, rather than choosing one backup method, you will have at least three ways you’re backing up your data. Your best options include:

  • The cloud — Cloud storage is becoming as popular as it is necessary, but many remain skeptical, given that this feels like the least tangible way to own your information. Choose a service that offers end-to-end encryption. Well-liked choices include iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox.
  • External hard drives — CDs, DVDs, and USB drives were once the gold standard of data storage, but given how easily they’re lost and damaged, we don’t generally recommend these options, especially for freelancers. External hard drives have thankfully become much more portable, even at great storage capacities. Like any physical asset, make sure you keep them in a safe, non-public place. Consider storing them in off-site locations, such as a security box, for extra precaution.
  • NAS device — Network attached storage (NAS) is a server that’s dedicated to saving data and can operate either wired or wirelessly.

Handling Money

In 2016, cybercrime victim losses totaled $1.33 billion. For freelancers, managing finances usually equates to a mass of e-files, invoice PDFs, and various online tools and software platforms. Managing finances online always carries risk, and it’s often the case that freelancers only have digital copies of certain critical files, which can jeopardize their personal and client information.

When storing financial information digitally, consider the following tips:

  1. Store separately — Like you would if filing, keep copies of your financial information on its own storage device(s). It’s also recommended that you keep a copy off-site, such as in a safe deposit box or self-storage unit.
  2. Use password protection — You should always keep your devices password-protected, but if you’re using a cloud-based service, make sure you password protect specific files.
  3. Clear and delete — Clear your app cache and temporary files made when scanning. Also make sure you securely and permanently delete documents, which may mean going a step further than emptying your trash bin.
  4. Use encryption — You can encrypt both files and devices, ensuring your data is unrecoverable without a key.

It’s also critical that you monitor your accounts for any activity you don’t recognize. Financial gain is the primary motivator of data theft and can cause a sudden drop in your credit score. If you notice something on your report that doesn’t look right, you can dispute it.

Scheduling and Upkeep

Finally, make sure you enable your storage devices or services to back up automatically. Otherwise, keep a consistent backup schedule of at least two times per week. Commit to cleaning out your files regularly to avoid cluttered or wasted storage space.

If using devices, be mindful of when they may become outdated, which increases the risk of hardware failure.