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October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. A collaborative effort between government and industry, National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) provides education, information and best practices for staying safe online to consumers, employees, parents and children.

Basic tips and advice have been broken down into three key themes: Keep a clean machine, protect your personal information, and connect with care. Here are the recommended tips from the team coordinating NCSAM – with a few tips of our own woven in.

Keep a clean machine

  • Make sure your software is current and updated. Automate updates and make sure you patch your systems as soon as patches come available. The recent mega-breach at Equifax may have been prevented had immediate patching of a discovered software vulnerability been completed.
  • Protect all devices that connect to the Internet by checking them for viruses or other malware and ensuring you change the administrator default passwords granting access to any Internet of Things devices, such as home security cameras.
  • Don’t use USB flash drives or other external devices that haven’t been scanned for malware.

Protect personal information

  • Use strong passwords or password phrases that are long and easier to remember. If you can’t remember them all, it’s OK to write them down, but be smart about it. Don’t leave it by your computer. One colleague even writes his password cheat sheet using a cipher.
  • Give each account its own password. Don’t reuse passwords!
  • Complement those passwords with additional “factors” for security, such as biometrics or one-time-passwords. Something you have and something you know can be very effective security.

Connect and compute with care

  • When in doubt, throw it out. This is a catchy phrase that the NCSAM team is using to remind us about the threat of phishing – those malicious links are shared with us hoping we click on them so a bad actor can implant malware and gain access to our systems. If you get an email or a social media communication that is suspicious or from someone you don’t know, throw it out!
  • Wi-Fi hot spots are breeding grounds for cyber germs. Limit the type of work you do using Wi-Fi hot spots and make sure your security policies and settings are in place.
  • If you’re shopping online, make sure you have a secure site.

Finally, one of the most important items we can take away from this month of security awareness is that we need to be vigilant the other 11 months of the year. With every breach we’re reminded that cyber security and vigilance in our actions is something that must always be “on.”

Use October to learn all you can about staying safe online. Polish your computing practices and cyber awareness this month to use year-round.

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