Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Four Safety Steps to Take Today

KEY TAKEAWAYS

For Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we underscore the imperative of adopting robust cybersecurity habits like strong passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication while advocating for businesses to integrate "Secure by Design" principles into their product development to mitigate evolving threats.

As we mark the 20th anniversary of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the urgency for robust cybersecurity measures once again dominates our newsfeeds.

The initiative, born from a partnership between the National Cybersecurity Alliance and the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), has evolved into a global movement on a unified mission to protect businesses and 5.3 billion internet users.

The theme for 2023, “Secure Our World,” takes on greater importance due to T-Mobile’s two significant data breaches this year. However, these are merely the tip of the iceberg, exemplifying the growing risks and steep financial and reputational costs of cybersecurity weaknesses. 

Given the 3.5 million global cybersecurity skills gap and rising cyber threats, the month-long campaign offers a timely reminder of the need to drive proactive cybersecurity measures. But how can you or your business participate and reduce your chances of being another cybersecurity statistic?

A Secure World Starts with You: The Four Key Behaviors

Just like we know eating well and exercising is good for our health but sometimes skip the gym for a Netflix binge, we often sidestep basic cybersecurity rules for convenience. You probably know that using the same password for multiple accounts is like playing with fire. One breach, and you’ve rolled out the red carpet for hackers to access all your accounts.

The reality for most of us is keeping track of multiple passwords feels like a headache, so we often stick with what’s easy. We choose comfort over caution, putting us on shaky ground in a world where cyber threats constantly evolve.

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However, entering your email address into Have I Been Pwned to reveal how many data breaches your email address has already been involved in should offer a wake-up call. Many people make it all too easy for hackers to gain control over multiple aspects of your digital life. But you can take action by simply changing the following four behaviors.

Don’t Be the Weakest Link: Improve Your Password Game

Strengthening your passwords is easier than you think and is crucial for improving your cybersecurity. Opt for longer passwords over complex ones; a 12-character password is a good start. Remember, weak passwords account for 81% of hacking-related breaches. But most importantly, never reuse passwords; it’s akin to using one key for all your locks. 

Remember, a password manager can eliminate the hassle of protecting every site or app. All you need to remember is one master password or unlock using facial recognition on your smartphone. This one change makes using unique, long passwords for each account accessible and offers an easy fix to boost your online safety.

Secure Your Accounts in Seconds with MFA

Before hackers can guess your password or attempt to access your account, you can add an additional layer of security that will stop them in their tracks. Adopting Multifactor Authentication (MFA) is like adding an extra lock to your digital door. According to Microsoft, enabling MFA can prevent 99.9% unauthorized account access. 

MFA is a multi-layered verification process to prove it’s you when you log in. First, you’ll use something you know, like a password. Then, you’ll use something you have, like an SMS code sent to your phone, or something you are, like a fingerprint or facial scan. It’s easy and adds extra security to your banking, email, shopping, and social media accounts.

Stop Clicking ‘Remind Me Later’ on Software Updates

The ‘remind me later’ button has become the procrastinator’s best friend in a digital world frequented by constant updates across anything with an internet connection. Our devices often appear to have a sixth sense for popping up those pesky update reminders right when we’re binge-watching a show, leveling up in a game, or sending that super important email. As if they’re saying, “Hey, wanna secure your digital life? No? Cool, how about in 15 minutes?”

Updating your software is a simple yet crucial step in safeguarding your digital life and work. Thankfully, automatic updates make installing the latest security patches a breeze and help protect you against the latest variants of ransomware and malware. All it takes is a quick trip to your device settings to enable this feature, usually found under ‘Software’ or ‘Security.’ 

With operating systems, web browsers, antivirus programs, and apps regularly issuing updates, a network is only as robust as its weakest link or most outdated device. Ignoring these updates is akin to unlocking your digital door, inviting potential vulnerabilities. So, before you click ‘Remind Me Later,’ remember that updating your software is an effortless yet effective way to fortify your digital life.

Don’t Get Reeled In Best Practices for Identifying Phishing

The landscape of phishing attacks has evolved dramatically in recent years. Previously, these attempts were relatively easy to identify due to poor English and glaring grammatical errors. However, AI-driven tools like ChatGPT have revolutionized the game, enabling attackers to craft messages far more convincing and indistinguishable from legitimate communications. 

Coupled with sophisticated social engineering tactics, such as mimicking a CEO’s email address, scammers have upped the ante. They can send authentic and compelling communications, increasing the risk of even seasoned professionals falling prey to these deceptive schemes. In this context, heightened vigilance and updated cybersecurity protocols have become indispensable for individuals and organizations.

It’s crucial to exercise vigilance before interacting with any message that raises suspicion or causes an emotional reaction. Telltale red flags include urgent language, personal or financial information requests, and mismatched email addresses. Don’t click links or open attachments if an email appears sketchy. Instead, report the email as spam and notify the purported sender through their official website to confirm its legitimacy. Deleting the message outright without engaging is also recommended. 

As technology advances make phishing attempts increasingly sophisticated, maintaining a cautious approach can be your best defense against becoming another cybercrime story.

A Secure By-Design Approach to Protecting Your Business

At a time when cybersecurity threats are escalating in complexity and scale, adopting a “Secure by Design” approach offers businesses a robust strategy to mitigate risks and safeguard their operations and customers. This principle mandates that security is not merely an added feature or a reactionary measure but a core business goal integrated into the product from its inception. 

By incorporating a comprehensive risk assessment into the design phase, companies can proactively identify vulnerabilities and implement safeguards in the product blueprints. This allows for secure products “out-of-the-box,” requiring minimal post-deployment configurations from end-users. In doing so, businesses protect their customers and position themselves as trustworthy technology providers in a competitive market.

The Secure by Design philosophy shifts much of the cybersecurity burden from its end-users, who may lack the knowledge and resources to protect themselves, to the technology providers. Features like multifactor authentication, intrusion detection systems, and secure data access are integrated at no extra cost to the consumer, making it easier for them to maintain a secure environment. 

A more proactive approach to cybersecurity in organizations is made much easier by the wealth of online phishing awareness simulations. These training sessions measure staff awareness and enable business leaders to evaluate and enhance the efficacy of current training resources. This approach also helps pinpoint and assist employees who are most at risk.

The Bottom Line

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the rallying cry “Secure Our World” serves as a crucial wake-up call for individuals and businesses in an era marked by mounting cybersecurity threats. The path to enhanced security for internet users starts with behavioral shifts—stronger, unique passwords managed through password managers, adopting Multifactor Authentication (MFA), vigilant software updating, and heightened awareness to detect increasingly sophisticated phishing attacks. 

For businesses, adopting a “Secure by Design” ethos is pivotal, integrating cybersecurity as an intrinsic part of product development rather than a bolt-on feature. This holistic strategy bridges the existing 3.5 million global skills gap in cybersecurity. It safeguards reputations and bottom lines, making it less about becoming a statistic and more about proactive empowerment in the digital landscape.

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Neil C. Hughes
Senior Technology Writer

Neil is a freelance tech journalist with 20 years of experience in IT. He’s the host of the popular Tech Talks Daily Podcast, picking up a LinkedIn Top Voice for his influential insights in tech. Apart from Techopedia, his work can be found on INC, TNW, TechHQ, and Cybernews. Neil's favorite things in life range from wandering the tech conference show floors from Arizona to Armenia to enjoying a 5-day digital detox at Glastonbury Festival and supporting Derby County.  He believes technology works best when it brings people together.