This October marks the seventh annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The effort comes to us from the United States Department of Homeland Security, and is a welcome effort in the continuing public education of the importance of safe internet use. The US Government has designated the internet as critical infrastructure, acknowledging its importance in our country’s ability to grow industry, share valuable resources, and conduct commerce.
The criminals and foreign adversaries who would compromise American internet users’ computers are highly sophisticated and very motivated. National Cyber Security Awareness Month is terrific because it provides an opportunity for the broader public to learn about the very real threats that are targeting them. Perhaps they’ve heard these basic yet vital messages before:
- Always run anti-virus software.
- Keep all software updated with the latest versions.
- Don’t click on links or visit websites that look suspicious.
Unfortunately the last time these words of advice were offered, maybe three out of the ten people who heard them actually put them into practice. (And even those who “get” the message will still make the occasional mistake! We all have bad days.) With continued repetition provided through opportunities like National Cyber Security Awareness Month, perhaps we can bump that up to six out of ten. Next time around, we can build on that success.
Like many things, how well educated the public becomes about cyber security depends on how much money is spent doing so. We will be as successful as the budgets for education efforts and our education strategies will allow us. Regardless of how much funding is available to spend on public education, lessons can be learned from strategies and tactics that have already been developed by other government agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services, along with entities like the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, have done a very good job over the years educating citizens about the dangers of smoking, epidemic preparedness, and other risks to one’s health. Government agencies tasked with protecting our nation’s cyber security should take liaise with those agencies to learn what works, and what doesn’t work so much. Reinventing the wheel is expensive and time consuming for all involved.
In closing, National Cyber Security Awareness Month is a welcome and important part of that effort. IT departments in the public and private sector should take advantage of NCSAM to reinforce safe internet use again. There are resources available for organizations to promote awareness available on the official NCSAM website, StaySafeOnline.org. Let’s keep moving forward in the fight against cyber crime together.