Like your parents and teachers always told you: “Safety first!”
Mark your calendars! It’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Bet you didn’t know that.
These days it seems like just about everything gets its own holiday or month. Once upon a time, federal gestures of recognition such as these mirrored meaningful shifts in governance and society at large. Labor Day back in 1882 gave a nod to the growing strength of unions and industrial workers; Black History Month in 1970 acknowledged the success of the Civil Rights movement; National Women’s Day in 1909 celebrated the long-overlooked contribution of women to social life.
Needless to say, National Cybersecurity Awareness Month doesn’t inspire such lofty emotions or instill a similar sense of historical accomplishment. It just doesn’t have the grandeur or scope as these other examples. All the same, it’s important. Don’t take my word for it, either — here’s President Barack Obama, the leader of the free world, proclaiming this (relatively) new American pastime:
America’s digital infrastructure underpins our progress toward strengthening our economy, improving our schools, modernizing our military, and making our government more open and efficient. Working together, we can embrace the opportunities and meet the challenges cyberspace provides while preserving America’s fundamental belief in freedom, openness, and innovation.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 2012 as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the importance of cybersecurity and to observe this month with activities, events, and trainings that will enhance our national security and resilience.
You heard the man. Sure, you may not have voted for Obama four years ago, and he may even get booted from the position in a few weeks. But for now, he’s still got the job, so we’d better heed his words. Luckily, while you’re here, we can give you a couple pointers. Over the course of the next couple weeks, we’ll share tips and info about how to make sure your accounts and information are secure.
Where to begin? Well, the first thing to do, argues Tod Pritchard of Ready Wisconsin, is try to inhabit the mind of the potential cyber-criminal. You don’t need to be a hacker to do this. “What cyber criminals are trying to do is…find any way they can infiltrate your computer,” Pritchard told reporter Courtney Everett.
Having made this assumption, here’s a no-brainer: PASSWORDS COUNT. So if your password is “1234” or “lmfao,” you may want to rethink your online security strategy. Even using your first pet’s name or your current street address can be pretty risky. (What if someone gets a hold of your driver’s license?).
Try to make it something hard to guess, something counterintuitive. And use a lot of unusual letter/number/character combinations. Go for those random, nonsensical alphanumeric sequences that people sometimes use to bleep out written expletives. Something like #@&*! or ~($%. Yeah, this makes remembering them harder. But that’s the point.
Another good approach is to use different passwords for different accounts. Write them down somewhere (preferably not somewhere digital) that you know you won’t forget.
With this approach, it’s important to prioritize, however.
QUESTION: Which password is the most important one to keep secure? Which one should be the toughest nut to crack?
ANSWER: Your e-mail. The reason is that if you lose any of your other passwords, the option sites or programs will give you is to automatically e-mail it to the address you listed upon registering. So if someone has your e-mail password, he or she potentially has access to all your passwords.
Any other words of wisdom Refundo can impart to you? Well, here we think it’s wise to defer to the FBI. They may take a bit more of a stern approach, urging you not to be “the weakest link.” Here’s some additional advice they give:
• Keep a clean machine — your operating system, browser, and other critical software are optimized by installing regular updates.• Maintain an open dialogue with your family, friends, and community about Internet safety.• 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 — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
And with that, you’re safe and secure. Like your parents and teachers always told you: “Safety first!”