National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: 7 Tips For Staying Safe Online

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The goal of National Cyber Security Awareness Month is to encourage everyone to protect their computers and, in doing so, help protect the digital infrastructure that we all depend upon.

There are a wide variety of both virtual and “real world” events organized by the National Cyber Security Alliance and affiliated parties, including Proofpoint own upcoming web seminar on email encryption. Find a complete list of events at the StaySafeOnline site.

For consumers, the StaySafeOnline site has some great resources about how to improve security, especially with respect to online safety tips for kids. Definitely worth checking out the “Tip Sheets” page which includes links to Word and PDF versions of tip sheets about Gaming Safety Tips for Kids, Gaming Safety Tips for Parents, Internet Safety and Security Tips for Parents, Mobile Safety Tips and Social Networking Safety Tips.

Of course, this is also an ideal time to recap the “7 simple rules” for staying safe online, which I’ve included below. Feel free to share these tips with email users in your organization:

1. Be aware: View with suspicion any email with requests for personal IDs, financial information, user names or passwords. Your bank, online services, government agencies or legitimate online stores are unlikely to ask you for this type of information via email. Consumers should also be suspicious of similar emails that appear to come from an employer or friend. Never send personal financial information such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers via email. Today’s malicious emails and phishing attacks are disguised as communications from all sorts of organizations, including government agencies, software vendors and money transfer services.

2. Don’t click: If you receive a suspicious email, don’t click the links in the email or open file attachments from anything but 100 percent trusted sources. Links embedded in emails may take you to fraudulent sites that look similar or identical to the legitimate “spoofed” site. Instead of clicking, open a browser and type the actual Web address for the site into the address bar. Alternatively, call the company using a phone number you already know.

3. Be secure: When you are shopping online, entering important information such as credit card numbers, or updating personal information, make sure you’re using a secure Web site. If you are on a secure Web server, the Web address will begin with “https://” instead of the usual “http://”. Most Web browsers also show an icon (such as Internet Explorer’s “padlock” icon) to indicate that the page you are viewing is secure.

4. Don’t fill out email forms: Never fill out forms within an email, especially those asking for personal information. Instead, visit the company’s actual Web site and ensure that the page you are using is secure before entering sensitive information.

5. Keep an eye on your accounts: Check the accuracy of your credit card and bank statements on a regular basis, especially during the upcoming holiday shopping season, when cyber attacks typically increase and busy consumers tend to be less attentive. If you see anything suspicious, contact the financial institution immediately.

6. Get social media savvy: Email isn’t the only attack vector used by spammers and scammers. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly used to deliver the same kinds of scams and malicious links to unsuspecting users. Spammers and malware writers are riding the social media wave, commonly using malicious, but convincing, emails that masquerade as notifications such as friend requests or message notifications. Keep all of the preceding tips in mind when using the latest communication tools.

7. Make security your first stop: Always make sure that your net-connected computers are protected by a good desktop anti-virus or Internet security solution—and that you keep your subscription up to date! Reputable vendors include F-Secure, McAfee and Symantec. Be extremely wary of Web pop-ups that offer “free security scans” or that inform you that your machine is infected with a virus. Such offers commonly lead to fraudulent anti-virus solutions that are actually malicious software.

Keith Crosley directs corporate communications for Proofpoint. Keith’s job entails the promotion of Proofpoint e-mail security solutions to press, analysts and the enterprise e-mail security market at large. His blog covers a wide variety of e-mail security topics including anti-spam, phishing, identity theft, data breaches and the policy, culture and technology issues that surround e-mail. Previous positions have included director, corporate communications at Elance, senior director, worldwide public relations at BroadVision and director of marketing at WiredPlanet.com. As a key spokesperson for Proofpoint and e-mail security evangelist/researcher, he takes part in television and radio appearances. Avocationally and semi-professionally, he is a filmmaker, musician and all-round multimedia enthusiast.