The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated October as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and DHS and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) are offering guidance to citizens about protecting private information when engaging in activity online.
Computer hacking may seem like sophisticated work but according to security experts, victims often unwittingly provide hackers with easy access to personal data, sometimes by clicking on a link in an email and other times by transmitting information over public Wi-Fi. These schemes have affected individuals and large corporations and organizations on a global scale. Fortunately, there are ways to combat cybercrime.
DHS recommends three steps before going on the Internet: Stop. Think. Connect. Specifically:
- Stop: Before you use the internet, take time to understand the risks and learn how to spot potential problems.
- Think: Take a moment to be certain the path ahead is clear. Watch for warning signs and consider how your actions online could impact your safety or your family’s.
- Connect. Enjoy the Internet with greater confidence knowing you’ve taken the right steps to safeguard yourself and your computer.
The CCSO also has a comprehensive list of Internet safety tips for citizens to consider:
General Internet Safety Tips
- Install reputable anti-virus software on computers.
- Do not open emails from unknown sources and do not click on links in emails from unknown sources. These links often allow hackers to gain access to your personal and financial information.
- Scrutinize an email sender’s email address. Sometimes hackers will create email accounts posing as a business or other entity. Ask yourself if you ever provided this business with your contact information. Compare the email address to the company or organization’s official website address and look for discrepancies. Finally, look for spelling errors, incomplete sentences and other errors that are not characteristic of reputable companies and organizations.
- Disable any feature that allows you to automatically download e-mail attachments. Use your anti-virus software to ensure attachments are virus free.
- When creating accounts on websites to either make purchases or participate in discussions, especially accounts that require personal or financial information, use passwords that are hard to guess but easy to remember. Use a combination of letters, numbers and other characters, when possible.
- If you have trouble creating a unique but memorable password, consider using an initialism by taking the first letters of the words in a line from a favorite song, poem, movie, etc. The password “Rrw4atr” is an initialism of Shakespeare’s “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” and, even better, it incorporates a number, “w4” for “wherefore.”
- Do not store your passwords on your phone or computer or on a sticky note near your computer.
- Pay attention to website URLs. Only use websites with “https” if you are transmitting secure information and look for variations in the spelling of a business or organization name.
- Limit the amount of personal information you provide on social media sites, Internet forums, chat sites, video game sites, etc. Ask yourself, “Is this information I want a stranger to know?” Also enable the appropriate security settings on all your accounts.
- Always install the most recent updates for your computers and mobile devices. These updates sometimes include security features that work in the background but do not alter the appearance of your device.
- Be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true and other misleading information.
Mobile Safety Tips
- Protect smartphones with a passcode that is unique and hard to guess. These passcodes are often numerical but remember that some hackers can find your birthday or anniversary online. Consider using the last four digits of an old phone number or use numbers that spell out a word on a telephonic keypad, the way that “4663” can be used to spell “home.”
- Lock your device when it is not in use.
- Never leave your device unattended.
- If your smartphone has a “Find My Phone” feature, enable it. Also enable the feature that allows you to wipe your information remotely.
- Disable features that automatically connect your device to public Wi-Fi.
- Never make purchases over public Wi-Fi. Some hackers activate Wi-Fi hotspots and when someone connects and then enters personal and financial information to make a purchase through a Web browser or application, the hacker gains access to the information, too.
- Be cautious of links received via text message and email. Mobile devices are not immune to hacking.
- Turn off Bluetooth accessibility when the feature is not in use.
- Backup important information on your device, either to your desktop or to a trusted cloud service.
- Discuss computer security with your children if they use the Internet or mobile devices.
- Enable parental controls on your devices.
- Be aware of your child’s computer activity.
- Ensure your systems are protected by antivirus software.
- Control employee access to the Internet through the use of firewalls and filters.
- Encourage employees to report potential security breaches immediately.
- Educate employees regularly about the importance of cybersecurity and the consequences of cyber attacks.
The CCSO also suggests that tech-savvy folks take time to help their parents, grandparents, other family, and friends who might not be as comfortable using technology learn how to protect themselves. Finally, citizens and businesses should consider their unique cybersecurity needs and adjust their practices and security systems accordingly.
For more information about Cybersecurity Awareness Month, visit dhs.gov/national-cyber-security-awareness-month-2014. For additional cybersecurity resources, visit sba.gov, us-cert.gov, or staysafeonline.org.