October – National Cyber security Awareness Month
Technology users urged to use caution on line

Information gleaned from multiple sources
The most serious economic and national security challenges we face are cyber threats. America's economic prosperity and competitiveness in the 21st Century depends on effective cyber security. Every Internet user has a role to play in securing cyberspace and ensuring the safety of themselves and their families online.

The digital revolution has enabled us to connect to the Internet virtually anywhere at any time. Even when we are not directly connected, the Internet supports our everyday lives through our financial transactions, transportation networks, emergency response systems, personal communication and more.

This reliance on the Internet will only continue to increase as technology advances and access to the Internet expands. To maximize the potential of a digital society, we must protect the resources that make it possible.

No individual, business, or government entity is solely responsible for securing the Internet. If each of us does our part to strengthen security practices, raise community awareness, educate young people, and train employees we can work to build a safer, more secure and resilient cyber environment. One way you can get involved? Participate in National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Through a series of events and initiatives across the country, National Cyber Security Awareness Month engages public and private sector partners to raise awareness and educate Americans about cyber security, and increase the resiliency of the nation and its cyber infrastructure.

Use security software that updates automatically
The bad guys constantly develop new ways to attack your computer, so your security software must be up-to-date to protect against the latest threats. Most security software can update automatically; set yours to do so. You can find free security software from well-known companies. Also, set your operating system and web browser to update automatically.

If you let your operating system, web browser, or security software get out-of-date, criminals could sneak their bad programs – malware – onto your computer and use it to secretly break into other computers, send spam, or spy on your online activities. There are steps you can take to detect and get rid of malware.

Don’t buy security software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially messages that claim to have scanned your computer and found malware. Scammers send messages like these to try to get you to buy worthless software, or worse, to “break and enter” your computer.

Treat your personal information like cash
Don’t hand it out to just anyone. Your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and bank and utility account numbers can be used to steal your money or open new accounts in your name. So every time you are asked for your personal information – whether in a web form, an email, a text, or a phone message – think about whether you can really trust the request. In an effort to steal your information, scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy. Learn more about scammers who phish for your personal information.

Check out companies to find out who you’re really dealing with
When you’re online, a little research can save you a lot of money. If you see an ad or an offer that looks good to you, take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you’ll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. If you can’t find contact information for the company, take your business elsewhere.

Don’t assume that an ad you see on a reputable site is trustworthy. The fact that a site features an ad for another site doesn’t mean that it endorses the advertised site, or is even familiar with it.

Give personal information over encrypted websites only
If you’re shopping or banking online, stick to sites that use encryption to protect your information as it travels from your computer to their server. To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure).

Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, the entire account could be vulnerable. Look for https on every page of the site you’re on, not just where you sign in.

Protect your passwords
Here are a few principles for creating strong passwords and keeping them safe:

  • The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack.  Use at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users.
  • Mix letters, numbers, and special characters.  Try to be unpredictable – don’t use your name, birthdate, or common words. 
  • Don’t use the same password for many accounts.  If it’s stolen from you – or from one of the companies with which you do business – it can be used to take over all your accounts.
  • Don’t share passwords on the phone, in texts or by email.  Legitimate companies will not send you messages asking for your password.  If you get such a message, it’s probably a scam.
  • Keep your passwords in a secure place, out of plain sight.

Back up your files
No system is completely secure. Copy important files onto a removable disc or an external hard drive, and store it in a safe place. If your computer is compromised, you’ll still have access to your files.

Top 5 ways to protect yourself online

  1. Use anti-virus and separate anti-spyware software, and keep them up to date.
  2. Do not open emails or attachments from unknown sources. Be suspicious of any attachments—even if it appears to be from someone you know.
  3. Use hard-to-guess passwords and keep them private.
  4. Update all your software regularly to ensure that you get security updates. Check monthly or more often.
  5. Back up your computer files frequently.

For more information about National Cyber security Aware Month and tips for online protection, begin at: http://onguardonline.gov/ or the National Cyber Security Alliance, http://www.staysafeonline.org/

Published 10-7-2011