October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month
By U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)
National Cybersecurity Awareness Month takes place every October. It is a good opportunity to review our online security habits on both our personal devices and at work. We are more connected than ever, and while it is nice to have quick and easy access to the Internet, it also means we are putting more information into cyberspace that can be used against us by bad actors.
The Department of Homeland Security has announced this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month theme is “Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.” More Americans are online than ever before. It’s important we take a look at our own cyber practices to make sure we are protecting ourselves from cyberattacks.
If you use any smart devices, take special precautions to secure your information. This can include making separate passwords for each device, checking the apps tied to each device on your smartphone to manually manage how much information you share with each device, secure your home Wi-Fi network with a strong password to prevent outsiders from accessing your devices and make sure to keep up with security and software updates. Keep in mind, whenever you purchase any kind of smart device for your home or vehicle, the company you buy it from will have access to sensitive information about you.
Best practices for online cybersecurity include creating separate strong passwords for every account you open. Turning on multi-factor authentication for all accounts is another good habit. It can stop hackers from accessing your information by creating another obstacle to get through if they’ve already found out your password. Don’t connect to public Wi-Fi to check your online bank account or shop online, as it is easier for hackers to access your bank account or credit card information more easily on a public network. Lastly, be cautious about opening emails or social media messages from people you do not know and don’t click on hyperlinks unless you can confirm the message came from a safe source. The overwhelming majority of security compromises are a result of human error – opening an attachment or link sent from an attacker.
Finally, we should remember that poor cyber hygiene cannot only have very negative consequences for individuals. As chairman of the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am deeply concerned about how poor cyber hygiene in our defense industrial base can enable bad actors to access critical military information.
For example, this year, the Department of the Navy released a report showing it had weak cyber defenses (to include in some cases poor cyber hygiene), which could allow hackers to access intellectual property and other sensitive military information. While the report is concerning, I’m glad the Navy recognized the need to increase security. The other branches of the military should follow suit with the same type of self-assessment, as it is unlikely these challenges are limited to just the Navy. When the report came out, I spoke with Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, to commend him for being forthright about their findings. It’s never easy to admit shortcomings, but identifying them and finding solutions to them is what will make our country stronger. Among the issues that Secretary Spencer is working hard to address is poor cyber hygiene, which even if limited to a small number of people, can have devastating consequences for the Navy’s defense industrial base.
We are relying on technology to make our lives more convenient and support our national security, but with that reliance come risks to our privacy and security. This month, I encourage you to review your cybersecurity habits and make necessary changes to protect yourself and your family from harmful cyberattacks. Additionally, I encourage the Department of Defense to make a top priority of improving the cyber hygiene of the defense industrial base. For more information about National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, visit www.dhs.gov.