Part of living in the digital era is understanding that our private information is more vulnerable than ever before. News stories about ID theft and data breaches abound, with the effects being felt by millions of consumers. And while companies and institutions are constantly working to protect themselves with increasing security measures, you can play a role in this fight as well.
Why Cyber Security Affects Everyone
Cyber security doesn’t involve just businesses and the government. Your computer, tablet and cellphone probably contain information that hackers and other criminals would love to have, like other people’s email addresses, names and birthdates. Suppose, for example, a hacker had access to your contact information. He could then send an email or text message to everyone you know, using your name, encouraging them to click on a link containing malware, like “Hey Jane, I thought you’d love this! Click here.”
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In a connected world, we each have a responsibility to protect ourselves and the people we interact with, and it all starts with understanding cyber security.
Understanding the Role of Cyber Security
Anything that relies on the internet for communication, or is connected to a computer or other smart device, can be affected by a breach in security. This includes:
• communication systems, like email, phones and text messages
• transportation systems, including traffic control, car engines, airplane navigation systems
• government databases, including Social Security numbers, licenses, tax records
• financial systems, including bank accounts, loans and paychecks
• medical systems, including equipment and medical records
• educational systems, including grades, report cards and research information
Three Principles of Cyber Security
There are at least three main principles behind cyber security: confidentiality, integrity and availability.
1. Confidentiality involves any information that is sensitive and should only be shared with a limited number of people. If your credit card information, for example, was shared with a few criminals, your credit rating and your reputation could suffer very quickly.
2. Integrity involves keeping information from being altered. When malware hits a hospital’s computer systems, it can scramble patient records, lab results and can prevent staff from accessing a patient’s allergy or drug information.
3. Availability involves ensuring those who rely on accurate information are able to access it. Availability is often related to integrity, but can also involve things like a cyber attack preventing people from accessing specific computers, or from accessing the internet.
What You Can Do
When you are aware of the risks, it may be much easier to protect yourself from hackers, viruses and malware. Here are four things you can start doing today to practice safe cyber security.
1. Never open an email if it appears in your spam folder. If you receive an email in your inbox, but are not expecting it, don’t click on the links, regardless of who appears to be sending them to you. Dangerous links could infect your phone or your computer with malware, compromising not only your data, but the information you have about your friends, coworkers and relatives. If you aren’t certain about a link, or if the message seems suspicious, contact the person who sent it to you using a different means of communication, like calling them or using a different email address.
2. Ignore unexpected warnings from sources you don’t trust. Known as scareware, fake security software warnings may be sent to you through email, or they may pop up in a new browser window while you’re surfing the web. While they may claim they have found a problem on your computer, they are often designed to infect your computer instead.
3. Install a good antivirus and anti-malware program on your computer and keep it updated.
4. Never give out personal information to strangers who call on the phone. In a tactic known as social hacking, people can impersonate someone from a legitimate company trying to get information about your username and password, or may try to get you to infect your own computer by installing software or clicking on a malicious link. If the person seems legitimate, offer to call him back and then check with the company he claims to be with.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Consider sharing this article with people you care about to help keep them – and yourself – safe from cyber threats.