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Homeland Security

Cyber security awareness gets focus in October

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

10/2/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- We've all had the experience: our computer, at work or at home, stops working. It could be a hardware glitch, but in this viral world, it just as likely could be a virus, worm or other malicious bit of software.

At best, it means de-bugging you computer. At worst, it can lead to criminals hijacking your identity and ruining your reputation and your life.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and a focus of the month is getting the word out that everyone has the responsibility to protect the national infrastructure.

While computer specialists at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security work to ensure networks are safe, users still must watch their computers.

Experts at the National Cyber Security Alliance, sponsors of the security awareness month, have some tips to help protect you and your family:

-- Always know who you are dealing with online. Do not open unsolicited e-mails or go to Web sites that look "off." One Defense Department official suggested checking the domain identifier. "Some shady sites use the name of actual sites, but (with a) different identifier, a dot-com rather than a," the official said.

-- Keep Web browsers and operating systems up to date.

-- Back up important files to CDs, thumb drives or external hard drives at least once a month.

-- Protect your children online. The media are full of stories about predators who haunt the Internet. In addition, some sites are inappropriate for children to view. Officials recommend using parental controls.

-- Use security software tools as your first line of defense. Many companies specialize in cyber security software, officials said, and people should buy one and keep it up to date. One hopeful development in the research world, they added, is that researchers writing new software often do that with security in mind.

-- Use strong passwords or strong authentication technology to help protect personal information. Even after much emphasis over the years on security, the most common password still is "password." Most officials recommend passwords with combinations of numbers, capital and lowercase letters and special characters. Other verification procedures include fingerprints and retina scans, though they can be expensive. And though it should go without saying, don't write down your password and put it on a note next to your computer.

-- Learn what to do if something goes wrong. Even if you are careful, your computer could be compromised. What now? One answer is to call the company that makes your security software, or the place you bought the computer. Or you can call one of the myriad groups that troubleshoot computers. Keep the phone numbers for your security software's manufacturer and the place where you bought your computer somewhere safe. They don't do any good sitting on your hard drive if something goes wrong.

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