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National Cyber Security Awareness Month is a timely reminder that our brave, new world — ever more high-tech, connected and “smart” — holds peril as well as promise.

It also reminds us that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and that there are important steps each of us can take to increase digital safety for ourselves and our families.

“This has been a challenging year for data management, privacy and information security,” says Briane Grey, City National’s head of corporate security. “At the same time, an ‘awareness’ month like this creates an opportunity to educate people in ways that mitigate threats and increase our nation’s resiliency.”

Gravity and Concern

National Cyber Security Awareness Month - October - was launched in 2004 by a partnership headed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of a broad effort to help Americans stay safer and more secure online.  This year’s events take place in the shadow of a number of well-publicized data breaches, such as the Sony Pictures hack late last year and the more recent large-scale data breach at OPM and the IRS.

Gravity and concern are appropriate responses to the recent parade of alarming news stories, Grey acknowledges. That’s why Homeland Security uses National Cyber Security Awareness Month to help people focus on the steps they can take to protect themselves.

“The good news is that there are things we can do at the individual level, at the family level, and at the small business level to enjoy the benefits of a wired world while minimizing risk and protecting our information,” he says.

Five Basic Steps

Grey endorses the five basic steps that DHS suggests all Americans follow, not just during National Cyber Security Awareness Month, but throughout the year:

  • Set strong passwords, and don’t share them with anyone.  Avoid using obvious or sensitive information about yourself or your family
  • Optimize your operating system, browser, and other critical software by installing updates promptly.
  • Talk about Internet safety with family, friends and colleagues.  Maintain open dialogue and spread the knowledge.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online, and use privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely.
  • Be cautious about the offers you receive or read online —if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Continuing Education

Grey also suggests using this annual event as a reminder to make time for continuing education in information security, as cyber security is a shared responsibility for both the home and work environment.  

The site has three key sections.

“I want to STAY SAFE ONLINE” talks in clear and simple terms about malware and botnets, spam and “phishing,” hacked accounts, and the ways and means of securing your own network:

“I want to TEACH ONLINE SAFETY” offers key concepts for teaching children of all ages how to stay safe on the Internet.  There are special sections for kids in grades K-2 and 3-5, as well as for middle- and high-school students.  A separate section addresses the special risks and responsibilities of Internet use in college.

“I want to keep my BUSINESS SAFE ONLINE” covers wide patches of ground, including how to assess information security risks, monitor threats, report cyberattacks, and implement a cybersecurity plan:

“As a bank, we have a compelling interest in protecting the information security of our clients, and we devote extensive resources to the task,” Grey says.  “We support National Cyber Security Awareness Month because we know that the active participation of our clients — as individuals, family members and business owners — is critical to helping us succeed in our mission.”