Growth of the gig economy comes with a cybersecurity threat

15 October 2018 Consultancy.uk

The UK currently has around 2 million freelancers, and in the coming years the number of gig economy workers is forecasted to continue its meteoric rise. The growth of freelancing however comes with a threat to cybersecurity, warns an IT security expert.

Global digitalisation and widening opportunities to work independently fuel growth of the gig economy. Research carried out by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) revealed that in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France, the growth of freelancers had surpassed the growth of overall employment. The trend indicates that traditional businesses are losing control over their employees’ workplace security status, while the safety of sensitive corporate data is being laid into freelancer’s hands.

The expansion of the gig economy is also stimulated not only by freedom-seeking professionals but also lean-thinking businesses. Outsourcing tasks and responsibilities to freelance workers provides companies with more flexibility to control costs, working hours, and more. However, this also means that they become clients, and must open part of their internal resources to those who have limited or no direct liability to their business.

“Internally, companies develop strict security procedures for their employees and invest in expensive security systems. However, when it comes to outsourcing, companies lose control of any data they share with the outsiders,” says Naomi Hodges, Cybersecurity Advisor at Surfshark. “Generally, it is the same as leaving the backdoors unlocked in a fort.”

Growth of the gig economy comes with a cybersecurity threat

She says that when outsourcing business functions, most companies rely on confidentiality agreements. However, the increasing occurrences of data breaches demonstrate that potential financial and reputational losses are, in most cases, much higher than any agreement can cover. Even in an office setting, employees remain the weak link. Phishing attacks are incredibly frequent and, as practice shows, not even the big corporations are entirely safe from determined hackers. For a phishing scam to work, one leak is enough. However, the information security assurance gets even more complicated to maintain in case of freelancers.

The disregarded data security risk

A vast majority of freelancers choose to work remotely – in coworking spaces, cafes, or anywhere where there is decent Wi-Fi. They invest in getting the necessary tools for work, such as computers, software, and other devices. However, security of those devices is often omitted from their to-do lists.

“Almost anyone with some basic technical knowledge can crack the connection of public Wi-Fi after watching a step-by-step tutorial on YouTube. The hackers can see anything that is being sent to or coming from the computer using the network. If a freelancer does not encrypt its traffic, all their documents and files are put on public display,” explains Naomi Hodges.

The growth of the gig economy means that the number of vulnerable individuals is also growing. Freelancers who do not protect their devices are putting themselves and their clients at risk of data breaches, leaks of confidential information, and more.

How to secure freelancers

Companies usually enforce security and privacy on a network level. Since it gets complicated to replicate it when working with freelancers, business should require them to have security implemented at least on the device level, as even one vulnerable device can easily allow accessing confidential files and accounts. Naomi Hodges says, that although there are several solutions to encrypt any device’s data traffic, virtual private network (VPN) software is one of the most advanced and easiest to use. In addition to protecting from online snooping, VPN shields from malware attacks and surveillance.

“It does not matter if a freelancer is a business consultant, an engineer, or a photographer. They all work with information which can be classified as sensitive to their clients,” explains Naomi Hodges. “Usually, it’s not too difficult to indicate their clients simply by looking at their portfolios. They all count on luck that nobody is interested in his or her files, but that is why data breaches happen.”

A reliable VPN service can benefit both the freelancer and their employer. As an inexpensive tool, it can offer secure browsing while on public or home Wi-Fi, as well as ensure the user’s digital privacy. Connecting to a specific country’s service allows the user to work seamlessly while traveling abroad, especially if they need information which is only available in their home country.

If business managers who work with outside suppliers, such as freelancers or agencies, do not require them to have any security assurance apart from confidentiality agreements, it should be a responsibility of a reliable freelancer to ensure that their client’s data is safe.

Related: UK has 2 million freelancers and the number will continue to rise.

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New ‘open consultancy’ Riverflex racks up eight clients and 300 consultants

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Digital consultancy firm Riverflex is celebrating a successful first year of business, following its launch in 2018. As the freelance consulting market continues to boom, the independent model–based conultancy has expanded to more than 300 members, working with eight corporate clients on projects like the Samsung store innovation drive. Co-founders Victor Hoong and André Azadehdel spoke with Consultancy.uk to explore what the future holds for Riverflex.

The freelance consulting sector of Europe is experiencing a period of rapid expansion, as former employees turn their backs on life at firms, amid the allure of a better work-life balance and the suggestion of better pay. According to Consultancy.uk analysis based on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK’s industry alone contains a labour pool of around 5 million people (or around 15% of the workforce), having increased from 3.3 million (12% of the workforce) in 2001.

With this state of play pressuring businesses to find value-delivering consultants, the need to match demand between businesses and freelance consultants has boomed. As a result, a growing number of firms looking to support businesses in that process have arisen. This includes platforms such as Nordic company Worksome and Berlin-based Comatch, which both entered the UK market in 2018. Financial services–focused Outsized also recently enjoyed a bullish UK debut.

With digital transformation currently one of the fastest growing areas in consultancy – accounting for more than $44 billion in annual revenues – there is also a large area to be filled by specialism within the market. With 80% of respondents to a recent Management Consultancies Association poll indicating that that technological and digital disruption pose a significant threat to businesses in the coming years, there is a significant opportunity for a firm which links client demand for digital skills to freelance consultants with the relevant experience and know-how.

Fast-growing Riverflex builds community of 300 consultants in first year

Riverflex arrives

Another new entrant in the digital consulting space is Riverflex, which celebrated its first anniversary at the end of March. Riverflex sells and delivers consulting projects, but with an independent model, catering to the demand for digital skillsets, lean teams, flexibility, and experienced industry hands. The start-up was launched by Victor Hoong and Andre Azadehdel in 2018, with the former Deloitte Consulting duo looking to close the gap between client needs and traditional consulting solutions, providing an alternative option to the Big Four and MBB firms for clients and consultants alike.

Speaking with Consultancy.uk, the duo commented on the need for consulting to change. Amid huge changes across nearly all industries, they see consulting being done the same way, more than a century after its first firms were founded. For this reason they decided to establish Riverflex – an ‘open consulting firm’ consisting of high quality vetted independent professionals and small partners. In this model, professionals can join from tier one consultancies, top agencies or industry blue-chips to deliver top consulting projects.

“Digital is transforming companies at a faster pace than ever, and business needs are evolving too," Victor Hoong said. "We dreamt of a top consultancy that could match these needs, and deliver real impact; a consultancy with digital in its DNA. Connecting teams of top independent talent from the best consulting firms and industry leading companies, and enabling them to do what they love: creating real value based on true expertise.”

Andre Azadehdel further elaborated: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Victor and I have worked in consulting since the turn of the century, helping businesses become better. We love this work. Helping others deliver hard business results is rewarding, challenging and exciting. But we also saw that the gap between client needs and traditional consulting outcomes is too far apart.”

Since its launch, Riverflex has worked to set itself out as unique along four essential pillars of business. Central to the company is a willingness to foster innovation and work towards providing excellence. With businesses increasingly being convinced of the business case for diversity, Riverflex also hosts a network with a multitude of viewpoints and backgrounds, focusing on helping its members to grow in terms of professionalism, and as individuals.

“The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent. Abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path.”
– Andre Azadehdel, Riverflex co-founder

First year

In the last year a number of key steps have therefore been made. The organisation has grown into both the UK and the Netherlands, and is currently working with eight corporate clients. Meanwhile, over 300 consultants have joined Riverflex, which now boasts a huge amount of experience at top tier consultancies such as Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, advertising agencies like Jellyfish, AKQA, Deloitte Digital, WPP and Publicis, and tech companies such as eBay, made.com, asos.com and bol.com.

Stating the firm’s emphasis on diversity, Hoong explained, “The variety of skill sets and backgrounds of our consultants means we can shape teams for our clients that have the muscle to robustly drive projects, combined with the deep know-how from professionals that wear the industry business scars needed to make a real impact.”

Azadehdel added, “The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent, abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path. We believe that being independent does not mean being alone. To us, being part of Riverflex means being part of a team of top digital professionals that share methods, knowledge and insights. Providing a real career alternative.”

Keen to show the strength and depth of its growing professional network, the company also hosts a monthly blog which highlights an exceptional Riverflex member. The most recent ‘Riverflexer in the Spotlight’ focused on former BearingPoint consultant Lies de Smit. In the past, De Smit had also worked at Deloitte Consulting's Technology practice. Despite her experience, however, she still entered the independent sphere with some trepidation – something which Riverflex helped her overcome.

Illustrating the importance of a network to freelancers, de Smit commented on Riverflex’s site, “I was afraid of what consulting would be like without having a team or people to discuss problems with… Riverflex is full of knowledgeable and experienced consultants. As an independent, I feel like being able to share my own knowledge can help all of us grow as consultants.”

“We work differently to work better. Better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants, better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition.”
– Victor Hoong, Riverflex co-founder

The future

Having made such a promising start, Riverflex's leaders have already made extensive plans to capitalise on their momentum. The firm will continue to focus connecting independent specialists from the open-talent network to provide clients with the right skill sets, while also playing to the company’s strengths in rapidly providing specialist talent and interim management for the quickly shifting needs of clients.

Azadehdel said, “A year ago, Riverflex was just a dream. A year later, this is a real company, making real impact. Together with our consultants and clients, we are on a journey to build the consulting firm of the future from the ground up… Working with lean teams that only do what is needed to meet our clients goals, flexibly scaling up and down and applying digital tooling and agile ways of working to work faster and deliver effective results.”

Victor Hoong concluded, “We work differently to work better: better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants and better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition – to continuously innovate and improve what we do and how we do it, delivering quality outcomes for clients.”