Think Before You Click To Celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness Month

National Cyber Security Awareness MonthThe most serious economic and security challenges we face are cyber threats.  This is not just true in the United States, but everywhere.  Economic prosperity and competitiveness in the 21st Century depends on effective cybersecurity and ensuring the safety of everyone online.  Since more and more of us get our news, interact, do business and play online, it’s important to make sure things are safe.

October 2011 marks the eighth annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC).  Even though this is a US initiative, the message is applicable to everyone.

The overarching theme for National Cyber Security Awareness Month is “Our Shared Responsibility,” which reflects the interconnectedness of the modern world and the message that all computer users have a role in securing cyberspace.  Through a series of events and initiatives across the US, Awareness Month engages public and private sector partners to raise awareness and educate Americans about cybersecurity, and increase the resiliency of the Nation and its cyber infrastructure.

Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano joined White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt at the Michigan Cyber Summit 2011 to kick off National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  It was also covered on Facebook Live as a streaming event.

With malware, botnets, phishing schemes and viruses, the internet is ripe with opportunity for mischief.  When a big event takes place, people are hungry for information and could be lured into clicking on links that are not genuine.  Many of these schemes play on our emotions and even diligent people can get caught.  A case in point is the recent passing of Steve Jobs.  Scammers and criminals were on it within hours with fake offers of free iPads and MacBooks.  Crime never takes a holiday. 

Hopefully people are getting wiser to these scams, but you still have to be diligent.  Here are a few simple rules to follow as you work or play on the Internet.

  1. Know who you are dealing with.  If you receive an unsolicited message from someone, be careful.  It may be from a legitimate business or acquaintance, but check it out first.  Don’t haphazardly click on a link that offers you something free or tries to play on your emotions.  Hover over any links with your browser to see where it goes before clicking.  If you know it’s legitimate, you are probably safe.
  2. Run security software and keep it updated.  This seems very obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do it.  Install anti-virus software and make sure it automatically updates.  The same goes for a simple firewall.  Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X and most Linux distributions come with built-in firewalls.  Turn them on and keep them up to date.  Mobile devices are getting better, but are still vulnerable too. 
  3. Update your operating system.  The major PC operating systems have automatic update mechanisms to install the latest patches and updates.  Microsoft and Apple regularly issue security updates to patch any vulnerabilities.  Turn on the automatic updates and make sure they work.  Also make sure that any applications you run locally have their auto update features turned on.  It’s amazing how many attacks on computers are successful because systems are not patched.    

Whether you are on a desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet or other computing device, think before you respond.  Criminals are always trying to stay one step ahead of us and keep developing new ways to trick us into revealing information or giving them money.

Remember that most scams and malicious internet behavior is to get you to part with your money.  Think before you Click and you are well on your way to independence from cybercrime.

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