Increase Awareness this Month, For Personal and Community Cybersecurity

October 6th, 2014 by Markus Rauschecker

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October marks Cybersecurity Awareness Month. For the past 11 years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has used this month to engage and educate the public about cyber threats and how to protect against them. Everyone has become more cognizant of the many cyber risks we face over the past decade. Hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear about another security breach or hacking attempt. Whether it’s a large retailer like Target or Home Depot, or a big financial institution like JP Morgan Chase, no one is immune from the mounting threats. So, while government is certainly doing its part to protect the nation from cyber threats, we must not forget that everyone, as individuals, can play a large part in increasing cybersecurity.

While cyberspace may feel nebulous and unfamiliar to those without a technical background, no one should feel helpless when it comes to protecting themselves. There are many things everyone can and should do to increase their safety online.

First, no one should make the mistake to think that they are not a target. Don’t believe that you are safe from a cyber-attack because you think you or your computer’s content are uninteresting to a hacker. Even if a hacker is not specifically interested in you or your computer’s content, they still may be interested in attacking your computer in order to take control over it and use it to carry out large scale acts. By protecting your own computers, mobile devices, and online accounts, you are not only protecting yourself, but also all the other computers and networks to which you are connected. Think of it like a vaccine – getting vaccinated not only protects you, but all those around you as well.

Second, everyone should follow these basic, but extremely valuable tips for protecting themselves online:

  • Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone. Strong passwords use letters, numbers, and symbols and should be at least nine characters long. Also, use a different password for each of your online accounts. That way, if one password is compromised, your other accounts remain secure.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software more secure by always installing updates.
  • Don’t install or download software, apps, or files for which the source is unknown – especially content from peer-to-peer networks.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online and use privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely.
  • Be cautious about what you receive or read online — verify that what you are receiving is legitimate. To be extra safe, don’t click on embedded links in emails; type the URL into your browser and go to the website directly. And, if you receive an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Third, everyone should continue to educate themselves about the current and evolving cyber threats and what can be done to defend against them. To that end, DHS provides a lot of useful resources. Use those resources to get new tips on how to improve your security, or to verify that everything you are already doing is still a best practice. No matter who you are, DHS has free toolkits for you. There are also many additional resources specifically for businesses. Finally, if you want to be informed on the latest cyber threats, you can sign up for the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) alerts. Subscribers receive threat information, as well as tips, and other relevant updates.

By implementing simple protective steps and staying informed, everyone should feel that they can do their part to increase cybersecurity for themselves and their communities. That’s the goal of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. If you want more information or are looking for ways to get involved throughout October visit DHS’ website.

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