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Cybersecurity Awareness Month reminder: Ensure everything connected is protected


The leaves are falling from the trees, Halloween costumes and pumpkin spice lattes are unavoidable. October is officially here. But that also means that it's time to put the threat of COVID to one side for a few weeks and celebrate National Cybersecurity Awareness Month or  NCSAM as techies prefer to call it.

The ECSM in Europe and the FBI in the US are also urging users to protect their digital lives. Online communities are encouraged to think about their personal accountability when drifting seamlessly between an increasing number of always-connected devices. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent your smart home from becoming a cyber-attack in the waiting.

If you connect it, protect it

With Black Friday sales on the horizon, many will be preparing to load up their virtual baskets with security cameras, smart doorbells, TVs, games consoles, voice assistants, and tablets. 

We’re living in a hyperconnected world where even your next toaster will ask for your wifi password. But will these devices still receive security patches five years from now? 

The deluge of internet-connected devices will ramp up during the holiday season. Do you remember when your children used to ask for batteries after unwrapping their gifts? They will now be asking for your wifi password. But when authenticating your latest shiny device, you could be inviting vulnerabilities onto your home network. From the moment you add your data and credentials, it will become a device of interest to hackers.

One of the biggest mistakes that households make is keeping the default settings on their wifi router. 

Unfortunately, the bad guys know this. Taking the simple step of changing the password that devices connect to along with the router password that gives you access to the settings is a great starting point. Secure WPA2 authentication or WPA 3 on newer routers will put you in a much safer position than the average user.

Most people accept that if they do not update the security on their laptops or smartphones, it will increase the chances of being exploited by a cyber attacker. But many forget this simple rule with every other device that connects to their router. If any device is not regularly patched with security updates or firmware, it will create a weak entry point into the network.

Personal accountability

Is your private digital life really private? The inconvenient truth is probably not. The many selfies you have uploaded to the web might have already been scraped from the web by tech companies and could now be stored in a law enforcement database. Some agencies are even using big data to fuel algorithms that will help them predict who might commit a crime as Minority Report-esque policing becomes a reality.

Even if you use your browser's incognito mode, your internet service provider can still see what you are doing online. Authorities in many countries can then request and monitor this activity too. If it's this easy for the good guys, you can assume that it is even easier for the bad guys. 

Your favorite social media platforms famously store a treasure trove of data about you. Much of that information will be freely available to anyone on the internet by default. 

It's time to think seriously about updating your privacy settings across all social networks.

You have the option to control what is visible to your friends and strangers online to greater protect your online privacy.

How many times have authenticated a third-party app or browser extension using your Facebook or Gmail account? Over the years, you have probably accumulated a long list of unused services with access to your personal information and even location data. National Cybersecurity Awareness Month represents an opportunity to take personal responsibility and review the permissions on those apps that have access to more of your online activity than you probably realized.

Managing risk when working from home

Change and uncertainty are like currency to cyber attackers. Unsurprisingly, there has been a 72% increase in ransomware attacks since the COVID-19 outbreak. Elsewhere, Google detected 18 million malware and phishing messages per day related to COVID-19. As employees leave the safety of the corporate network, employees run the risk of becoming the weakest link in cybersecurity defenses.

The home network does not have the luxury of an IT or security team at its disposal. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and an increasing number of unsecured IoT devices present cyber thieves with mouth-watering opportunities. The family member with the lowest cyber hygiene could unwittingly expose corporate information to hackers.

The 'Think Before U Click' (#ThinkB4UClick) campaign is attempting to change that. Whether checking personal emails, downloading attachments, or remotely connecting to a company server, we all need to act responsibly. If you take the necessary steps to mitigate risks, you can avoid inadvertently opening the door to attackers.

We are approaching 60 years since the Jetsons cartoon provided a compelling vision of connected life. But the show failed to warn that the dream could quickly be turned into a nightmare by hidden vulnerabilities. 

An insecure password, unpatched device, or clicking of a malware-infected link is all it takes to become just another cyber-attack statistic.

In an ideal world, every day should be cybersecurity awareness month. Realistically, October serves as a timely reminder of the importance of not skipping their annual cyber hygiene check-up. If you can get into the habit of patching all of the devices connected to your home network, increasing your online privacy, and using social media responsibly, maybe you can reach a digital utopia where everything connected is protected.

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