October may bring to mind thoughts of changing leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and Halloween. But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is urging Americans to think about something more serious this October: Cyber security. Read on for an overview of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), along with the invaluable role individuals and organizations can play in protecting themselves from the escalating threat posed by cybercrime.
The “Worst-Case Scenario”
Cybercrime incidents have skyrocketed in recent years, with September’s hack on Equifax highlighting the direness of the problem. In stealing the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information from unknowing victims, cyber criminals brought what CNN dubbed to be a “worst-case scenario” to life — one in which hackers can now use this stolen information to open lines of credit, steal tax refunds, and perform other havoc-wreaking acts of identity theft — for millions of Americans.
The worst part? The Equifax hack is a mere indication of what’s to come, with even more individuals, businesses, organizations and communities vulnerable to attacks by clever and ruthless cyber criminals intent on everything from stealing information to paralyzing entire governments.
The Cyber Security Imperative
You may be asking yourself: What does this have to do with Homeland Security? A lot, as it turns out. Because while the words “Homeland Security” may initially make you think of physical threats on American soil, the truth is that cyber threats may be equally if not more dangerous to American lives and livelihoods.
Says DHS, “As information technology becomes increasingly integrated with physical infrastructure operations, there is increased risk for wide-scale or high-consequence events that could cause harm or disrupt services upon which our economy and the daily lives of millions of Americans depend. In light of the risk and potential consequences of cyber events, strengthening the security and resilience of cyberspace has become an important homeland security mission.”
In other words, as cyber threats increase, so does their capacity to destroy — with significant potential human and economic repercussions. This reality gave birth to NCSAM, and its mission to “engage and educate public and private sector partners through events and initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of cyber security, provide them with tools and resources needed to stay safe online, and increase the resiliency of the nation in the event of a cyber incident.”
What Can You Do?
While cybercrime is indeed scary, there’s good news: You don’t have to sit back, wait, and wonder whether you’ll be next. Instead, it’s possible to take proactive steps to defend against cyber incidents.
DHS’s “Stop. Think. Connect.” Toolkit is an exhaustive guide for individuals and organizations alike when it comes to managing and mitigating cybercrime risk. With sections for everyone from schools and parents to small businesses and law enforcement, the toolkit comprises a breadth and depth of information, including tips, best practices, and other useful materials.
One sector particularly vulnerable to the life-threatening consequence of cybercrime? The government. In a speech at Georgetown University, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned, “We are literally the target of thousands of cyber-attacks every day — every day! Thousands of cyber-attacks that are striking at the private sector, strike at Silicon Valley, strike at other institutions within our society, strike at government, strike at the defense department, our intelligence agencies. Cyber is now at a point where the technology is there to cripple a country, to take down our power grid systems, to take down our government systems, take down our financial systems and literally paralyze the country.”
To that end, “Stop. Think. Connect.” also devotes an entire section to helping federal, state, and local government officials and employees, individuals and organizations take adequate measures to reduce their risk.
One last thing to keep in mind? Even the best cyber security measures aren’t foolproof, which is why disaster recovery planning is also an essential part of NCSAM. Says Gartner research vice president Earl Perkins, “Take the money you’re spending on prevention and begin to drive it more equitably to detection and response. The truth is that you won’t be able to stop every threat and you need to get over it.”
Enter OnSolve and the CodeRED Mobile Alert app. The nation’s most downloaded public safety and emergency notifications app, CodeRED puts critical information literally at the fingertips of your community members in the event of a cyber-attack or other man-made or natural disaster.