Cyber Security Basics - Novice

OR Grandma’s Got a Brand New Smart Bag

Cyber Security
Shawn Stewart

Shawn Stewart

Mr. Stewart has 25 years of experience with hundreds of international, commercial, military, and government IT projects. He holds certifications with ISC2, Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, ITIL, Novell, and others. He has a Masters in Cybersecurity, a Bachelors in IT, a Minor in Professional Writing, and is a published author.

This three-part series covers the basics of cybersecurity for three different user levels. The first is the novice technologist – those who wouldn’t use the technology if it wasn’t so darn convenient. The next category is the daily user – you check your phone when you wake up, and technology is part of your work and social life. The final group are the hardcore power users and administrators – either responsible for technology or pushing it to do everything it can. 

Today’s blog is for the novice. We will ease into it. Take your time. If it becomes too much, simply march in place until you’re comfortable to continue. We start with a definition. Cybersecurity. I know, a big, compound word could be confused for a Slovakian curse. The easy explanation is to protect your technology from problems. Hackers? We won’t use that word here. It’s not welcome.

What Constitutes Cybersecurity Technology – Let’s keep it simple. Technology, for this discussion, is anything that can find its way to the Internet. It can receive system updates over the Internet or can be accessed through an application on your Smart Phone. When a device is Internet capable, it can be compromised. This is the primary principle of cybersecurity, protecting your devices and personal information from privacy invasion.

What Constitutes “Smart” – These days, everything is “Smart,” or so the package says. Here are some advertised “Smart” devices: Smart Car, Smart Watch, Smart Fridge, Smart House, Smart City, Smart Thermostat, Smart TV, Smart Speaker, Smart Phone, and, of course, the Smart Toilet. Yes, the Smart Toilet can automatically raise, drop, or warm the seat. Just because it’s called Smart doesn’t mean it fits our cybersecurity definition of technology. A flat-screen television is Smart Technology only if it is Internet-capable. The Smart Toilet is not so bright.

Close the Door! – If your dad was like mine, you’ve heard him complain about heating or cooling the neighborhood. Cybersecurity works on much the same concept. You want to keep all the cold, heat, dogs, cats, small children, lemmings, dust bunnies, and other household items inside while the heat, cold, bugs, flies, mosquitos, pollen, dust, rain, snow, snotty-nosed neighbor kids, and other undesirables out. The best way is to close the doors and windows and keep them closed. You can also caulk the cracks, close the blinds, and bolt the doors if you think someone might try to just walk in. See snotty-nosed neighbor kids.

Mobile Device – Your phone probably has more personal information about you than a full filing cabinet! Always add a PIN, password, or fingerprint to access your phone. Never leave your phone, tablet, or computer visible and unattended in public. I’m looking at you, coffee shop patrons. The last thing you need is someone rifling through your pictures, messages, and social posts, whether they are five or thirty-five.

Computers and Tablets – Tablets and computers also offer unwanted glimpses into your privacy. Even if you’re not laundering money for a cotton candy cartel from the Jersey Shore, your files are private! A savvy individual can find saved website passwords on your browsers or the WiFi password to your house! Always add a hard-to-guess, strong password to computers and tablets.

Home Network – Most of us have wireless in our home or office, which is convenient. In the world of cybersecurity, convenient typically means less secure. Be sure to use a strong password on your wireless, as simple passwords can be compromised. Remember, it may be more hassle for you, but it is also more hassle for the thief.

Keep It Private – Don’t post your travel schedule and pictures from the beach on social media until you return, especially in group chats. When you do post, be sure the post is either private or only available to your friends. Little malicious programs called bots scour public social media posts for this type of information. Why do we use social media again?

Trust But Verify – NEVER give personal or financial information to anyone on the phone, online, or via email. If you are concerned about the identity of an individual or company, perform a separate search to find a legitimate name, number, address, or email. Contact them using those channels to confirm their identity. The IRS and Social Security Administration will NEVER call or email you with threats or requests. Trust me. The IRS knows where you live and will show up at your door if you owe them money. Don’t be afraid to hang up or delete suspicious messages. See used car salesman.

Website Safety – How do you know a website is safe? Certificate Authorities are oversight organizations that verify the identity of websites with the companies they claim to represent. In the web browser bar, you will see a lock. Clicking the lock provides a wealth of information about the site.

Reality – What are the odds someone will single us out and try to steal our data? Most burglars admit they target houses without security signs or poor lighting. Imagine leaving your doors and windows open with a sign in the front yard that says, “on vacation for two weeks.” A password-protected screen is an easy deterrent for most as they are looking for quick and easy access.

Cybersecurity requires us to admit there are thieves roaming among us. You can still have faith in humanity while deterring those who refuse to work for a living. Trust but verify are words to live by. When you need an accountant, attorney, or physician, you won’t do it yourself. If you need help with the technical aspects, find a trustworthy computer person with references and verify them!

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