Guest post from Alex Karr and Karl Smith, project managers in the Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Office of Mission and Capability Support.
Recent cyberattacks at school districts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas, along with a ransomware attack targeting a Los Angeles school district last month, are critical reminders that detecting and defending against cyber threats and strengthening our cybersecurity are high-stakes endeavors requiring vigilance, education, and collaboration from everyone, ranging from highly-trained security professionals at the Department of Homeland Security to everyday people who log in to their computer for work every morning.
Therefore, it’s only appropriate that “See Yourself in Cyber” is the theme of Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022, a public awareness campaign co-sponsored by our partners at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance. The goal of this annual informational campaign is to educate the public on how to protect themselves online and improve their security as threats to their personal technology and confidential data become more commonplace. This year’s theme focuses on ensuring all individuals and organizations make better decisions regarding cybersecurity, whether on the job, at school, or at home—both now and in the future.
At S&T, we are doing our part. We are engaged in several important research initiatives, like improving first responder cybersecurity capabilities, identifying potential vulnerabilities in our nation’s critical infrastructure software, and implementing solutions to protect our critical infrastructure from potential cyberattacks. Here is an overview of some of these efforts:
Cybersecurity Training for Law Enforcement—There are growing technological, social, and economic impacts of malicious cyber activities on our aging workforce and senior citizens. Through ongoing surveys and evaluations, S&T is assessing the impact of current cybersecurity training programs for local law enforcement and using findings to create and implement solutions to strengthen agencies’ abilities to combat cybercrimes, improve the online resilience of local communities, and protect vulnerable populations from becoming targets of malicious actors.
Fleet Vehicle Cybersecurity Analysis and Mitigation—S&T is developing defensive measures to protect law enforcement vehicles from current and future cyber-physical threats. The goal: provide physical and technological solutions enabling law enforcement organizations to identify potential vulnerabilities in their fleet vehicles and implement appropriate countermeasures to address any weaknesses and shield from attacks.
Forensic and Operational Applications of Software Assurance Tools—S&T is researching models, procedures, and practices that can be adapted and implemented to prevent cybercriminals from finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in software programs that are commonly used by law enforcement agencies.
Software Assurance and Vulnerability Management—S&T and CISA are collaborating on an effort to protect the software programs that ensure the integrity and proper functioning of our nation’s critical infrastructure. One project leverages data analytics and machine learning to create frameworks, tools, and methodologies to conduct quality assurance checks on software programs and detect/remove malicious files and software before they can infiltrate the programs that are used to run and maintain our critical infrastructure. In another project, we are developing technology to protect software and systems by assessing the integrity of associated industrial control systems and cloud environments and scanning external software programs for malware, viruses, and other threats before they interact with these systems and environments.
How we can all own our online safety
While S&T continues to pursue cybersecurity research that will strengthen the nation’s ability to defend against cyber threats, here are four things CISA recommends we can all do right now to ensure our safety online:
- Whenever possible, enable multi-factor authentication, a safety feature that requires two or more forms of identity verification (e.g., passwords, PIN numbers, thumbprints, facial recognition) to access devices, applications, and online accounts. These additional security measures are designed to significantly decrease the likelihood of anyone being able to gain access to personal information via a cyberattack.
- Use strong passwords to protect all computers, tablets, phones, and, most importantly, access to your personal information. A well-crafted password should be long (at least 12 characters); unique (don’t use the same password for multiple accounts); utilize a mix of upper- and lower-case letters; and contain random numbers and symbols.
- Learn to recognize and report phishing. Phishing is a form of cyberattack where malicious actors will attempt to manipulate or trick people into providing sensitive personal information by impersonating a trusted person or organization. Phishing is most often conducted via email or fraudulent websites. Make sure online devices have the latest anti-phishing protection and anti-spam software installed.
- Always update software on online devices when prompted. These updates help to keep your computers, phones, tablets, and other devices running smoothly; improve their compatibility and program features; and most importantly, increase protection against security vulnerabilities such as data breaches, hacks, identity theft, and other forms of cyberattacks.
Together, we will continue to make cyberspace more secure today and tomorrow. Continue to check S&T’s social media accounts (@DHSSciTech) throughout October for more tips and updates on our cyber R&D.