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If You Connect It, Protect It - NCSAM 2020 Week 1

Welcome to the first week of Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2020! 

Each week we will be highlighting one of the four themes for this year's NCSAM! 

If You Connect It, Protect It

Twenty years ago, coffee machines made coffee, thermostats regulated temperature, and cellphones made calls and texts. We pushed buttons and turned dials, and the technology behind it made the magic happen. When we connected to the internet, it was a cool thing, and anything that connected to the internet was even cooler. 

That was then, this is now

This phrase couldn’t represent a more dramatic shift in technology than in any other twenty-year span. Today, our coffee machines and thermostats are connected to networks and controlled through apps on our phones that transfer more data in a day than some companies created in a year. We live in a connected world, full of connected devices and we expect that connectivity to be easy enough for a child or a grandparent to use.

The cost of connectivity 

But there is a darker side to them all: as they are connected to the Internet, they pose a risk. Why? Because they collect and use our private data. They “know” what we like, what we buy, where we live, where we go, who we’re with, and when we’re at work. If that kind of information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used against us. No matter whether we like it or not, there are cybercriminals out there who work hard to steal our data and use it to their advantage.

I’m protected - right? 

Wait a minute, you say. But all my smart devices are bought from trusted, tech-savvy companies and I’m sure they took care of their security. They are specialists, aren’t they? Well, they are, and the products you buy from them are safe at the point of sale. But once you take them out of the box and connect them, that’s a very different story! As soon as you click “Turn Wi-Fi on”, it becomes your responsibility to protect your data.

What can I do about it?

Thus spawns the name of the week 1 theme for NCSAM: If you connect it, protect it.

Here’s a list of things you should do to make the most of your smart stuff:

  1. Always change a password in all devices you buy. Never use a default password. Why? Because manufacturers tend to use the same password across many or all of the devices they produce. This means those passwords are predictable and easy to hack.
  2.  Create smart passwords for all your smart devices! Which really means: make sure they are complex, lengthy, and difficult to guess. This way it will be much more difficult for a cybercriminal to crack them!
  3.  Check whether your smart devices aren’t asking for too much of your data. Make sure to check what each of your devices or apps is asking for in terms of permissions and learn how to say no if it feels they are asking for info they don’t need. Really - does your coffee maker need access to your contacts?
  4. Always update your device software and stay current on your antivirus version. Whole teams of IT specialists are working hard to come with the most effective device protection software, ready to protect your data from the newest types of cyberattacks. So, make sure you take advantage of their work and click update for those critical applications when they come up on your screen!

Smart things are great and it’s hard to imagine the world without them. But they are just what they are: things. YOU decide how to use them and how to make them safe. So next time when you get a new smart TV, a smart toaster, or a smart air conditioner remember: if you connect it, protect it!  

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