National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: A Much-Needed Wake-Up Call

In 2004, The Department of Homeland Security designated October National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. And with each passing October since, as the leaves turn gold and the air turns crisp, we are reminded of our shared responsibility to keep the Internet safe.

We need these reminders. We need these little symbolic nudges to keep us on alert. The stakes are very high, and the mechanisms hackers use to lure us into making mistakes that danger our and others’ data grow slicker every day. We need to remain vigilant.

You don’t need to work as a security expert to keep up your side of the bargain. For the vast majority of the time, keeping secure amounts to following a four-word maxim: “Hover Before You Click”. The most common kind of attack to befall the typical Internet user is phishing. Hackers trick you into clicking a link you think will lead one place but actually ends up delivering malware to your machine. These attacks work only when we let our guard down. When you see a link in an email, your first response should be, “Danger. Don’t Click.” If you really want to click on it, place the mouse over it without clicking, and see what address appears in the bottom left part of the browser window. (If you’re on your phone or tablet, long-click it and see where the address is, but be careful not to let your finger off the link too quickly.) If the link address leads to something that doesn’t match what you were expecting – if, for example, you were expecting to visit a federal government website but the link ends in .com rather than .gov – do not click on it. Or, if you receive an email from someone you don’t know or whose email address doesn’t match the name of the organization the sender claims to represent, mark the email as spam and move on. The sooner your put it out of sight, the better off you’ll be.

It’s just that simple. You can almost completely eliminate your exposure and avoid being that weak link that endangers your and your loved ones’ data simply by avoiding clicking on links, particularly in emails you receive. Email is a minefield. Treat it as such.

We all have our weak moments. We all occasionally read email and browse websites under the intense influence of melatonin. The month of October – National Cybersecurity Awareness Month – can give us an additional incentive to stay woke.

About Ray Klump

Professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University http://online.lewisu.edu/ms-information-security.asp, http://online.lewisu.edu/resource/engineering-technology/articles.asp, http://cs.lewisu.edu. You can find him on Google+.

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