Our society is comprised of the Internet of Things (IOT), where everything is digitally connected — from the smartphones we carry in our pockets to the coffee machines we use to jumpstart our days. All of this hyper connectivity is incredibly convenient — whether you want to:
- Adjust your home’s temperature (even when you’re on the road)
- Receive instant alerts every time your favorite stock goes up
- Sync your calendars, emails and to-do lists in real time
Yet, living in the Internet of Things also comes at a cost.
With more moving parts and bottlenecks, our digital infrastructure is far more susceptible to cyberattacks. When working anonymously and remotely, for example, fraudsters can gain direct access to your webcam, bank account or driverless vehicle.
As we become even more reliant on interconnected devices, these threats will only get worse.
That’s why the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decided to designate every October as “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.” This collaboration is designed to equip all Americans with the resources and knowledge they need to remain secure in today’s increasingly digitized world.
What Is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month?
This month of awareness was launched in 2004 — during the relatively early days of the Internet. Though because cyber threats continue to evolve over time, the exact nature of this annual event has evolved, as well.
Starting in 2008, for example, the architects of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month introduced a new campaign — STOP. THINK. CONNECT.TM — that focused on seven broad initiatives:
- Keep a Clean Machine
- Protect Your Personal Information
- Connect With Care
- Be Web Wise
- Be a Good Online Citizen
- Own Your Online Presence
- Lock Down Your Login
These seven areas are still relevant today, but National Cybersecurity Awareness Month now also focuses on weekly themes to help make the above steps even more actionable.
Week 1: Make Your Home a Haven for Online Safety (Oct. 1 – 5)
The home is your sanctuary, but it’s also where cybercriminals often start looking for vulnerabilities. That’s because families typically take fewer precautions than businesses and governments.
During this week, Americans are encouraged to:
- Analyze their daily Internet usage
- Secure open networks and routers
- Password-protect all connected devices
Week 2: Educating for a Career in Cybersecurity (Oct. 8 – 12)
According to the U.S. government, America is facing a shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals to help safeguard society. That’s why the theme of Week 2 focuses on various strategies to attract new talent to the field.
Essentially, the goal is to motivate counselors, teachers and parents to learn more about cybersecurity so that they can inspire younger generations to get involved professionally.
Week 3: It’s Everyone’s Job to Ensure Online Safety at Work (Oct. 15 – 19)
Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work — using computers, phones, servers and countless other connected platforms. Thus, businesses and employees are strongly encouraged to implement basic cybersecurity guidelines to better restrict access to sensitive data.
Because there are so many potential vulnerabilities in the modern workplace, listing every countermeasure is beyond the scope of this article. Fortunately, however, the National Cyber Security Alliance has a dedicated page to help small to medium businesses get started.
Week 4: Safeguarding the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure (Oct. 22 – 26)
We all depend on shared assets such as utility networks, cloud-based servers and defense systems. Not surprisingly, these bottlenecks represent some of the most attractive targets for would-be hackers.
That’s why Week 4 focuses on steps the general public can take to secure these shared assets and protect them from both individual and state actors wishing our country harm.
Cybersecurity: 8 Things You Can Do (As an Individual)
Weekly themes and catchy slogans are great — but what actionable steps can you take to protect yourself, your community and your country?
For starters, raising awareness is key. That’s because cybersecurity holes in one part of society could potentially affect everyone else.
A good first step is to promote National Cybersecurity Awareness Month on platforms like social media. More specifically, you should:
1. Follow the NCSA on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
2. Like, post and retweet safety tips published throughout October.
3. Write blog posts about cybersecurity (as we’ve done in this article).
In addition, print and display any of the free posters and resources listed here. The more family members and colleagues who see these cybersecurity tips, the better.
While helping to raise awareness, take proactive steps to protect your online activity as well.
Common strategies include:
4. Using strong, alphanumeric passwords that you change on a regular basis.
5. Using a password manager to help you remember each login. LastPass and KeePass are both great options.
6. Installing a VPN or proxy server to help anonymize your online activity.
7. Set up a time in October to sit with family members or co-workers so that you can discuss cybersecurity protocols and common-sense protection measures.
8. If you run a business, consider upgrading your payment environment with better fraud management tools and PCI-compliant data security.