Digital Security - "Stop. Think. Connect."|
Posted 10/16/2012 Updated 10/16/2012
by Lt. Col. Mickey Evans
55th Communications Squadron commander
10/16/2012 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- We lead ever increasing digital lives and our reliance on the Internet and the devices that make use of the data and services available via the digital environment increases with each passing day. And to some extent, our reliance on technology has outpaced our vigilance and awareness of the possible dangers.
"Stop.Think.Connect." is the motto for this year's 9th Annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, National Cyber Security Alliance and Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
This motto encourages us to take a moment to understand the risks, be certain the digital path ahead is clear, and to enjoy the Internet with greater confidence knowing you've taken steps to mitigate the risks.
What follows are some simple suggestions to help secure your digital activities.
We've all received spam and in most instances it's easy to recognize. In some cases it's simply advertising and a nuisance but in other cases it's an attempt to gather information for nefarious reasons. The potential pitfalls posed by unsolicited e-mails include being a victim of e-mail scams, fraud, social engineering, and phishing attempts. E--mail, both unsolicited and those from friends and family could also be transport mechanisms for harmful software to include viruses, spyware, and Trojan horses that could allow a malicious actor access to your data or the use of your computer for their own purposes.
There are several things you can do to minimize the chances you will fall victim to e-mail hazards:
- Use spam-filtering software which is a standard feature in most e-mail applications and web mail services. Filtering won't eliminate all spam, but it will eliminate the majority of it.
- Regard unsolicited e-mail with caution and suspicion. You should never open an attachment or click on a link in an e-mail if you don't know who sent it. Even if you know the sender, there are no guarantees the attachments are safe. Many viruses spread by using a victim's e-mail contacts and sending themselves to those addresses.
- Install Antivirus software and keep it up to date. Antivirus software is only as good as the virus signatures it's aware of and since there are new viruses being developed every day, it is critical the software be kept current. Your antivirus software should include an e-mail scanning feature.
- Install a personal firewall and keep it up to date. A personal firewall will not prevent a virus from entering you inbox but it may protect you should you inadvertently open a malicious attachment or click on a malicious link.
The use of social media has skyrocketed over the last few years and there continue to be new ways in which its use is becoming more of a necessity than a nice-to-have. The personal firewall and antivirus software mentioned previously will help secure your digital activities. However, the pitfalls of social media can be more subtle and require your vigilance.
Actions you can take to mitigate the risk:
- Know how to control access. Configuring your social media sites such as Facebook can be a challenge. Some things you may want anyone and everyone to see and some things you may want to keep more private. Know how your account is configured.
- Know the properties of your digital photos. Many digital photos maintain data about the photo such as date, time, and even geographic location which could lead to unintended consequences. Uploading a photo of your favorite 'secret' fishing spot may provide more information about its location than you intended. Uploading photos of the family while on vacation could let someone with ill intent know your house is sitting empty.
- Look at your social media content critically. Chances are each picture, comment, or link on your social media site, taken in isolation, is relatively harmless. But what if you pieced them together? A comment about running late to pick up the kids from school pieced together with a photo of you wearing a shirt with your children's school on it, along with a picture of Scruffy the dog and a picture of your 8 year old child and their his or her name, could provide all the information needed to put a child in harm's way.
Obtaining content from the Internet is fully engrained in most of our lives. Accessing schedules for events, news, reservations, tickets, games, weather, etc. is part of our daily routine. Most of us don't think twice about accessing that content and we're not aware of what's happening behind the scenes. There are risks and the consequences of failing to mitigate those risks can be quite large.
Consider the following:
- Disable active content. Active content can increase functionality and add enhancements to web sites. Not all active content is dangerous but it offers opportunities for cyber criminals and hackers. However, disabling active content could break some features of the web site so use caution when exploring this option.
- Adjust your privacy settings by blocking or limiting cookies in your web browser. Cookies are used to gather and store information about your computer and your browsing habits. They are what allows a website to keep track of the links you've already accessed and displays your personalized page when you visit your favorite on-line retailer. You should limit cookies from third parties. When using a public computer, disable cookies or at least delete them before you log off.
When all else fails, good old fashioned common sense can be invaluable towards securing your digital activities. If something looks too go to be true, promises too much, or just doesn't seem right, it's probably in your best interest to avoid that content. For most people, there's a fine line between taking so many precautions you lose the benefits and being totally oblivious and of the dangers. Each of us has to determine for ourselves and our families where that line is but do yourselves a favor and make that a conscious decision by remaining vigilant and taking the necessary steps to secure your digital environment.
The Internet is a shared resource and it is our shared responsibility to secure it. Each of us, doing our part to secure the technology we possess and come in contact with will go a long way in protecting both ourselves and the global community of users.
For additional information on National Cyber Security Awareness Month and how to secure your digital activities, visit www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-security-awareness-month