Recognized every October, National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is that time of year when businesses, citizens, and the government collectively work together to raise awareness of the many threats we face in today’s increasingly connected world.
This year’s theme is — Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT. with a special focus on areas such as:
- Citizen privacy
- Consumer devices
- E-commerce security
Why National Cybersecurity Awareness Month Is so Important
Basic security has always been vital, which is why:
- Automobiles have locks
- Homes come with alarms
- Bank accounts require passwords
Yet, society’s transition to the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to create more entry points for malicious actors. Unlike with home burglaries, proximity to victims is no longer required. Today’s cybercriminals can inflict damage remotely (and anonymously) from the other side of the world.
The goal of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is to educate Americans about these growing threats so they can take proactive steps to protect themselves.
Staying Safe in the Internet of Things
Below are just a handful of commonsense cybersecurity habits worth incorporating into your daily life:
- Update the default privacy settings on all of your devices, accounts, and applications. You should only share information that is critical to the proper functioning of these platforms.
- Use multifactor authentication for all of your logins. This is especially important for personal or financial data including health records, bank accounts, and even social media.
- Create strong, unique passwords for every platform you visit. Keeping track of all these logins is much easier if you use a password manager like LastPass, KeePass, or DashLane.
- Keep all of your software and devices up to date with the latest patches and anti-virus protection. Most tools allow you to enable automatic updates for easier management.
How to Protect Yourself From What Criminals Really Want
The above are universal best practices that apply to everyone. Adopting these strategies can help shield you from everything from data breaches to privacy invasions.
However, the real goal for most cybercriminals is your money:
- Some thieves will try to access your financial information directly so they can make unauthorized purchases.
- Others will try to access your computers or smart devices to hold sensitive data hostage until you pay a ransom.
To protect yourself as an individual, sign up for real-time credit monitoring. It’s also a good idea to request your free annual credit report from all three of the major reporting bureaus.
These “reactive” steps won’t necessarily shield you from new threats. Though regularly monitoring your credit history allows you to intervene faster if and when something happens. This makes it easier to limit the overall damage.
Cybersecurity for Businesses and Merchants
While cybercriminals often go after individuals, the real money is in large-scale data breaches that involve businesses and their respective payment environments.
As a merchant, this means you must take extra special precautions to ensure your payment processing infrastructure is as secure as possible.
PCI-compliant payment processing is the minimum security requirement. However, because every business that handles credit card data also follows the same standards, PCI compliance alone doesn’t make you safer than anyone else.
Instead, focus on making your business as uninviting as possible to would-be attackers. If every other home on the block uses one lock, your home should use two locks — plus a dog, alarm system, and neighborhood watch program.
In payment processing terms, this means:
- Leverage fraud prevention technologies such as tokenization and point-to-point encryption to keep your users safe when you capture, store, or transmit their payment information.
- Use fraud management filters that can help prevent or flag suspicious-looking activity. For example, a velocity filter can automatically decline transactions based on parameters you set up in the gateway in the event cybercriminals start to test credit cards against your merchant account.
- Limit employee access to customer data on a strictly need-to-know basis. This principle of “least privilege” helps reduce the likelihood of payment information falling into the wrong hands.
How Will You Partake in National Cybersecurity Awareness Month?
Cybersecurity is an arms race. Whether as a citizen or business owner, trying to stay ahead of the latest threats requires round-the-clock vigilance.
That’s an unreasonable expectation, given how busy all of our lives are becoming.
Still, October is the perfect month to conduct routine data security and privacy hygiene. Although there are many steps you can take to protect yourself, the above cybersecurity habits represent some of the lowest-hanging fruit. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these tips.
Best of luck, and stay safe.