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  • Writer's pictureYatia Hopkins

A Primer on the Real-Life Application of Security and Why It Matters

What’s often missing in cybersecurity conversations is how it actually affects “real people.”

With all of the headlines about data breaches and ransomware, it’s easy for citizens to get news fatigue. And on top of that, all of these headlines and incidents can make it too overwhelming to decipher what they need to worry about and why – and what needs to be done to protect themselves.

As someone who works in cybersecurity at the industry level, I see too many examples every day of what can happen when security isn’t taken seriously. From these experiences, I’ve gleaned a few ideas about how make cybersecurity a part of my daily life – and the lives of my children.

Why you should be concerned: We’re handing out a treasure trove of data every day

The market is trending towards everything being connected and smart. This trend is leaving mass quantities of personal data trails. This goes beyond our cellphones and laptops to include smart TVs, IoT-connected baby monitors and much more. If it’s a popular appliance, there’s at least one manufacturer out there touting an internet-connected version.

There’s a good likelihood that almost every day, you’re handing over your valuable information without even giving it much thought – whether it’s at the grocery store, on social media channels or within your fitness tracker.

All of that information has value, and there are cyber criminals who are determined to capitalize on it. Risks can include everything from gas pump and ATM card skimmers to schemes as nefarious as scamming people out of their life savings under the auspices of purchasing their dream home. The most vulnerable in the physical world – senior citizens and children – face similar risk in the cyber world.

How to take stock of your personal security posture

Consumers are primarily focused on convenience and ease of use – risk isn’t usually a consideration. As a private citizen, you’re not likely to invest in heavy-duty cybersecurity tools. That should be the responsibility of the companies and services you’re accessing, but the key word is “should.”

Just as you might take basic precautions to protect your physical security, there are some things you can do to protect yourself in the cyber world. First, evaluate what you’re giving up of your own privacy and principles in order to gain the convenience you want. This varies for everyone – maybe you’re fine with your photos and comments being available to Facebook or other social media sites, but you draw the line at buying items online from small, less popular ecommerce sites. Wherever that line is for you, draw it clearly and with your data’s security in mind.

Take stock of your children’s security posture

Our children are often unwilling participants in the digital world. Toddlers, for instance, have no say in whether their baby photos are being uploaded to the internet or turned into the latest meme. But the actual risks faced by children on the internet cannot be understated. There’s everything from the financial concerns – children getting suckered into using their parents’ credit cards to make pricey purchases – to the much more serious potential dangers of cyber bullying, identity theft and cyber predators.

As parents and guardians, we have a responsibility to protect our children in the cyber world just as we do in the physical world. Like most things in life, increased awareness is key – not just your own but your children’s, too. In an increasingly digital world, we owe it to our youth to help educate them about the dangers online, just as we would warn them against getting in cars with strangers and the like.

Here are four steps to take to protect your children’s digital assets:

  1. Parental controls are your friend. Understand why and how to use them. You can limit access to certain websites, words or images, as well as block outgoing content.

  2. Monitor online activity, both on the computer and on phones. Use monitoring tools to watch what your children are doing online, without blocking their access.

  3. Encourage age-appropriate internet interactions. Help children understand that just like they shouldn’t talk in real life to adults they don’t know, they shouldn’t talk with them online.

  4. Teach children to protect their private information. Tell them to avoid giving out their name, address, phone number, birthday, any passwords or the name of their school. And train them to tell you if someone asks them for that information.

Slow down and stay safe

In our always-on, rush-rush world, we’ve gotten used to automatically clicking “Accept these terms,” downloading an app and going on our way. But if we hope to remain safe online, we need to start paying more attention to what’s being asked of us and our data. This is truer than ever as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a daily part of our lives through smart appliances and digital assistants like Alexa. It’s also true for our children, who also spend hours each day online. The best practices noted above will help keep your personal data and that of your family safer as you navigate the digital world.

Published on - October 15, 2019

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