Would you toss your car keys to your 10-year-old child and say, “Have fun—be home before dark!”? Would you leave your front door unlocked, with a sign in the driveway saying you’re on vacation? No, of course not. You understand the dangers these activities would pose to your family’s physical safety and privacy.
However, many of us go online every day—and allow our children to do so—with little or no awareness of the tremendous power at our fingertips, or the potential risks in cyber space. The amount of sensitive and personal information we keep on our computers, smart phones or laptops, and post on our social media sites is staggering. While the efficiencies and convenience of online connectivity have revolutionized how we work and play, without a true understanding of the cyber threats and basic precautions, we put our family and ourselves at risk. More than 19 million records have been breached so far in 2012, resulting from hacking and malware attacks, lost or stolen laptops and smartphones, skimming credit card numbers and a plethora of other types of cyber scams. An estimated 40 percent of all households have been affected by a computer virus.
Don’t become the next statistic!
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, along with many governments, businesses, schools and other groups to help improve cyber security preparedness. It’s a great time to evaluate your family’s online activities and take some basic steps to protect yourselves.
Take the Pledge!
The Center for Internet Security, a national not-for-profit, is conducting a national Cyber Security Pledge campaign during Awareness Month to help users understand good practices for staying safe on the Internet and affirm a commitment to online safety. You can join thousands of others across the country and sign the pledge online by visiting CIS at https://msisac.cisecurity.org/cyber-pledge/.
Make sure you know these top tips for being a smart cyber citizen:
- Use and maintain antivirus software.
- Keep your operating system patches up-to-date.
- Always use strong passwords—a combination of characters, numbers and letters. Make sure you have separate passwords for each account you have—and don’t share them.
- Do not visit untrusted websites or follow links provided by unknown or untrusted sources.
- Be careful what personal information you distribute, particularly on social networking sites.
- Teach children not to post or share personal information such as their photograph, address, age or activity schedule. Teach them not to respond to cyberbullies. Report incidents of cyberbullying to school administrators and local law enforcement when appropriate.
By employing some of these basic practices, we can protect ourselves and improve our chances of NOT becoming the next victim of an online scam or attack. Make sure you are doing your part to stay safe in cyberspace.
William Pelgrin is the president and CEO for the Center for Internet Security. CIS provides many free resources online to help users protect themselves, including daily tips, monthly newsletters, bimonthly webcasts, videos, a Cyber Security Toolkit, and much more at cisecurity.org.