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Recognizing the Risks of Our Continuously Connected Lives

Phyllis Schneck, Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications, NPPD
Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications

Whether it’s an app that allows us to control the temperature in our home from miles away, a fitness band that tracks the number of steps we take and calories we consume, or a refrigerator sensor that alerts us to when we are running low on milk, apps and connected devices have transformed the way we live our lives.

These major advancements in mobile technology have resulted in an unprecedented era of convenience. On the other hand, the rapidly increasing number of connected devices Americans use on a daily basis has changed what it means to keep our digital lives and homes cyber secure. Not only are we using more apps, we’re also now sharing an extraordinary amount of personal information online, including banking and credit card information, personal health data, and our addresses or location information.  One of the biggest challenges of our time is creating a more secure digital environment by raising awareness for cybersecurity and the critical need to protect personal data online and make more informed decisions on when to share that data at all.

As part of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2016 and throughout the year, the Department of Homeland Security is encouraging all Americans to take simple measures to protect their personal information online. Get started by following these steps to help ensure the security of your sensitive information.

  • Keep your personal information private. When your personal information – such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, health information, or your address – falls into the wrong hands, it can be exploited and used to steal your identity and your money. Before you share any personal information, weigh the benefits and risks of sharing it and, if sharing online, ensure you are using a secure app or website.
  • Secure your home network. Many devices connect to the Internet through your home Wi-Fi network.  This now makes your home router the primary entrance for cybercriminals to access all of your connected devices. Secure your Wi-Fi network, and your digital devices, by changing the factory-set default password and username.
  • Know your apps. Be sure to review and understand the details of an app before downloading and installing it. Also, check to make sure the vendor or creator of the app is reputable. Be aware that apps may request access to your location and personal information.  Be extra careful of free apps, as many of those use targeted advertising for revenue and they collect and sell your information.  To increase your security, delete any apps that you do not use regularly.

One group that has a high ‘app’-titude are children and students. Our Nation’s youth have never known a world that was not digitally connected. They are comfortable with technology, and they may have a different concept of privacy than adults. Parents and educators have a responsibility to help children understand safe online behavior and that online actions have real world consequences. One way to do this is to start ongoing conversations with children about their online actions. DHS’ Stop.Think.Connect.™ Campaign has resources for parents and educators. For students that want to take their cyber skills knowledge and one day work in the cybersecurity field, encourage them to visit www.dhs.gov/cyber. There they will learn about what a cybersecurity job in the government can look like and locate scholarship and job opportunities through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month is led by the Stop.Think.Connect.™ Campaign, the nation’s cybersecurity public awareness campaign, in partnership with the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Anti-Phishing Working Group. The Stop.Think.Connect. Campaign aims to empower the American people to be more secure online by providing them with the tools and resources they need to be safe online.

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