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Cybersecurity 101: What it is and why it matters
October 26, 2020
By Kirsten Queen
The digital world is made up of networks, devices, and data that helps us connect to one another and exchange ideas. Just like the infrastructure of the physical world, like roads, bridges, and traffic lights, digital infrastructure requires protection and maintenance to keep it safe for people to use.
This is where cybersecurity comes in. Cybersecurity is the “art of protecting networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information” on electronic devices, according to the Department of Homeland Security. From your modem to your social media profiles, to your employer’s network and your company computer, cybersecurity plays an essential role in keeping our digital spaces safe.
Our digital networks are built by code and use software or hardware, which can leave them open to vulnerabilities that criminals seek to exploit. And cybercriminals have a variety of attacks up their sleeves, including phishing, data theft, and hacking accounts.
Though reputable companies test their devices, software, and networks regularly to protect their customers, employees, and business, there’s always some risk of cyberattack. It is often up to us, as consumers and employees, to be aware of the inherent risks in using computers and networks and taking steps to protect our devices and our personal information. As the National Cybersecurity Alliance says, “If you connect it, protect it.”
There are many types of cybersecurity threats to be aware of. To get started, here are some areas you should consider taking cybersecurity measures to keep yourself, your family, and your company safe from cybercrime.
Your data comprises your personal information, including that which you use to sign up for accounts on social media or an email service provider. This data might include sensitive information, like your date of birth or social security number (for financial institutions), but it can also include your phone number, gender, or even your location. Data breaches happen regularly, and the stolen information can be used for malicious purposes by hackers. Because passwords are often leaked in data breaches, it’s a good idea to use a unique password for every account you use. Don’t give out your date of birth or social security number unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your data has been breached, be sure to monitor your credit reports and keep an eye out for suspicious activity, like new accounts that you have never opened.
Your devices, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets, contain your data – including that sensitive data that you wouldn’t want to fall into the hands of a cybercriminal. To keep your devices safe, it’s essential to keep an eye out for social engineering attacks, like a tech support scam or phishing email. These types of attacks are designed to trick you into willingly giving someone access to your device, which can compromise your entire device and all the information on it. It’s also important to have antivirus software on your computer, which can help prevent attacks from hackers.
Data transmitted over an unsecured WiFi network is susceptible to a man-in-the-middle attack, where the data sent between two devices over a network is intercepted, or the device is taken over by a hacker. The best way to protect your network is to take steps to secure it with a strong password and encryption. Encryption helps protect your data by using a hash, or what is essentially a code, to scramble your information. That way, if it falls into the wrong hands, the attacker would have to decrypt it, which is nearly impossible with a strong level of encryption.
Applications on your phone, tablet, or computer are created by software. Though application developers put in a lot of work to make sure their tool is safe to use, applications still have vulnerabilities. Take, for example, the video application Zoom, which came under fire earlier this year. Due to a flaw in the software, hackers were able to steal passwords on Windows devices. Be sure to download programs and apps that have good reviews and a consistent track record of software updates. When a new update becomes available for any app, be sure to install it as soon as possible. Keeping software up-to-date helps keep your device from being open to attack.
As work goes increasingly online and people work from their home office, keeping cybersecurity in mind will help keep you, your job, and your employer safe from cyberattacks. Cybercrime often occurs because criminals take advantage of human nature. They can create authentic-looking emails that look like they came from your boss or coworker to try to gain access to credentials or financial information. Be sure to brush up on the basics of phishing, and it’s also a good idea to establish a connection to your employer’s internal sites and tools via VPN, or a virtual private network which can provide better security and encryption for sensitive work information.
It’s important to take steps to prevent cyberattacks if you or your student is learning online. In 2019, 348 cybersecurity incidents were reported by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. Universities have experienced malware and ransomware attacks as well. Phishing emails are also a trick used in the educational sector, so it’s important to educate children and teenagers about what these attacks can look like.
Cybersecurity starts with awareness. As we go forward into a world run on the internet and our networks, it’s time to take cybersecurity seriously. Take steps to protect yourself and your family and follow #BeCyberSmart on social media this October during Cyber Security Awareness month. Together, we can learn how to build a more secure online world.
This blog is provided for informational purposes only and may require additional research and substantiation by the end user. In addition, the information is provided "as is" without any warranty or condition of any kind, either express or implied. Use of this information is at the end user's own risk. CenturyLink does not warrant that the information will meet the end user's requirements or that the implementation or usage of this information will result in the desired outcome of the end user.