October is just around the corner! The weather is becoming pleasantly cool and crisp, leaves are changing to vibrant colors, and every pumpkin-flavored product imaginable is starting to hit the shelves. Another little-known but vitally important October theme is a month-long focus on cybersecurity education and awareness. Since 2001, October was designated as National Cyber Security Awareness Month – and the timing couldn’t be better with major breaches like the recent Equifax cybersecurity incident. With online usage being a part of everyone’s daily life, it is critical for consumers to remain diligent about practicing good cybersecurity habits and protecting themselves.

What is it?

National Cyber Security Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Cyber Security Division with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Alliance. Its purpose is to engage, educate and raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity, provide tools and resources needed to stay safe online, and increase the resiliency of the nation in the event of a cyber incident, like the Equifax data breach. Cyber security protects not only individuals and business, but also the country’s national security, infrastructure and economy.

How can I participate?

Individuals are encouraged to become educated and spread the word. The National Cyber Security Alliance and the Department of Homeland Security offer a variety of tools and resources that can be used at school or work and on social media.

What can I do to stay safe online?

  1. Don’t open attachments or click on URLs in unsolicited emails from vendors and people you don’t know. These may be phishing scams that contain links that will download malware on your computer or lure you into entering personal information. Be aware, the email may even appear to be from someone you know, but may look or sound suspicious.
  2. Use strong passwords, and do not use the same passwords for multiple websites. Consider increasing the complexity of passwords or use phrases, and regularly change passwords for added security. You can also consider using a password management app on your computer’s browser and on your phone. These apps create and plug different passwords into each of your accounts when you log in, so you don’t have to invent and keep track of dozens of passwords. This can help eliminate the temptation of using the same password for multiple accounts.
  3. Be secure when you shop online. Use a credit card in lieu of a debit card in case of fraudulent charges. If a fraudulent transaction takes place on your credit card, at least the funds won’t automatically be pulled from your checking account while you are settling the dispute. Also, protect yourself by only shopping on sites with HTTPS and a padlock icon to the left or right of the URL. The ‘s’ at the end of HTTPS stands for secure, and ensures all communication between your browser and the web is encrypted.
  4. Back up your data on all of your electronic devices. In the case of a loss, theft or crash, you’ll be glad you took the time to do this.
  5. Be proactive and routinely check all of your financial statements and history for suspicious or questionable charges. Contact your financial institution immediately if you find unauthorized activity on your accounts.
  6. Avoid putting personally identifiable information (PII) on social media platforms, and set your profile private settings to be accessible only to friends.
  7. Make sure you have updated antivirus software installed. Maintain updates on the software you have. Consider software that does automatic updates and routine scans. Research the options available, and select the software that’s right for you.
  8. Update your Windows and Apple devices. For users of iPhones, iPads, Mac computers and Windows devices, downloading the patch is critical to avoiding potential hacks. The latest software updates on these devices fix key vulnerabilities that allow hackers to take over your device.
  9. Most importantly, think before you click. If something seems off, it likely will require a little investigation before clicking the link or message. Resist the urge to respond to enticing subject lines that sound too good to be true. Stay alert and take protective measures to ensure online safety and security.

Learn more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month and the ways to stay safe online by visiting the Department of Homeland Security website.

Author: Acacia Kersey, Marketing Communications Specialist | Marketing Services