The freelancer economy is on the rise again. The latest findings from the Office of National Statistics show the number of self-employed workers in the UK has increased by 129,000 to 4.75 million in the three months to November 2016, and that 15% of all people in work are self-employed.

The figures aren’t surprising. Contractors play a valuable role in helping organisations to operate, as explained in a previous blog post. However, it’s important for businesses to understand that hiring freelancers brings risks to data security – and for them to recognise that hackers know employees and contract staff are weak links and that there is a lack of security awareness in many organisations.

This is a cause for concern as revealed in NTT Security’s Risk:Value 2016 report, which found that 51% of business decision makers thought that contractors/temporary work staff were the weakest security link within the organisation. So what can you do to protect your data and your business?

The best defence against cyber attacks is a vigilant and well-informed workforce. Organisations should regularly run security awareness programs to inform all employees including contractors about best practice – from mobile device security through to security awareness when travelling.

They should also take advantage of the advances in developments in machine learning and data analytics which now include user behaviour analytics. This can help companies identify unusual behaviour that could indicate a compromise.

Finally, it’s crucial that all businesses – whether hiring freelancers or not – fully understand their risk exposure and take the recommended steps to plug the gaps. Processes, procedures and awareness are all essential ingredients for risk mitigation, along with the right technologies to help protect from and detect any malicious activity. Our 2015 Global Threat Intelligence Report highlighted the need for organisations to concentrate on getting the basic security measures right. Implementing the fundamentals that put risk in context is the foundation of any coherent and thorough response plan. Don’t let the cyber criminals have a free lunch by failing to include contractors and freelancers in your cybersecurity programs.