Saturday, December 22, 2012

Personal Cyber Security - TEEX's Holiday Guide, Part 1

Christmas is only days away, and with it, the deployment of millions of new Internet devices into the happy hands of young and old. Most of these computers, smart phones, tablets, game consoles, and routers are shipped without any security in place. Personal computers normally come with some type of antivirus installed for a trial period that must be renewed for continued protection.

As more of our personal lives and business live on the Internet, cyber security is moving to the forefront. Education and awareness about the kind of security you need are essential. Some company's advertisements would want you to believe that you are in extreme danger and that their paid monitoring services are essential for cyber survival. Driven by extreme examples, some casual Internet users even feel it necessary to physically disconnect their PC from both the Internet and electrical system. Others may decide against using webcams and communications software for fear that it could be used to spy on them.
On the other hand, Internet security is ignored by many until something "happens." Consequences can range from "someone saying bad things about you on twitter," to losing, at least temporarily, your money, history, ... everything.

To raise awareness and address the growing threat, TEEX’s Knowledge Engineering division, along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offer several online cyber security courses. This DHS/FEMA Certified Cyber-Security Training is designed to ensure that the privacy, reliability, and integrity of the information systems that power our global economy remain intact and secure. The 10 courses are offered through three discipline-specific tracks, targeting everyday non-technical computer users, technical IT professionals, and business managers and professionals. These courses are offered at no cost, and students earn a DHS/FEMA Certificate of completion along with Continuing Education Units (CEU) at the completion of each course.

According to Michael Sevier, an instructor with the program, a cyber-security threat may have unforeseen consequences. For example, a cyber attack on a community hospital may have far-reaching repercussions. Unable to operate without electronic medical records, the attack could cause the complete evacuation of the facility, even though it’s a beautiful day and everything else is functioning. The evacuation may tax the resources of the the community's police and fire departments as well as transportation systems and medical facilities. According to Sevier, “Everything is connected on some level, and our goal is to make emergency planners, first responders and entities such as hospitals, power plants and other essential services aware of the threat so that they can prepare and plan.”

Poor personal cyber security can be a threat to large organizations. For example, connecting a work computer which has access to company data on servers, through an insecure wireless network at home or at a local coffee shop, can endanger company data.

To help you ensure your personal devices and home networks are secure this holiday season, our next blog will cover basic personal cyber-security essentials, such as antivirus software for PC’s, how to realistically create and use a secure password, the essentials for game console security and how to make sure your neighbor isn’t piggybacking on your new wireless home router.

In the meantime, check out TEEX’s Cyber Security course offerings. They are free and designed for everyday non-technical computer users, technical IT professionals, and business managers and professionals.

Sam White owns a technology consulting company and is an adjunct communications specialist for TEEX. He invites your comments.

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