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Cybersecurity Takeaways: Assess Yourself, Protect Yourself

Students at computersMassive data breaches leave individual consumers feeling powerless. Sophisticated phishing attacks make the "foreign-born prince" email scams of just a few years ago seem quaint. On social media and beyond, questions of what's real, what's fake and whodunnit are going through a cyber-shakeout nationally and globally.

"It's like the old ‘Spy v. Spy' cartoons," said Kevin Davis, deputy chief information officer and director of core services with Technology & Innovation (formerly ITS).

Davis has been at higher education cybersecurity long enough to remember distributing anti-virus CD-ROMs door-to-door in residence halls. Today's challenges are exponentially more complex, and demand more diligence–the human race generates as much data every two days as it did from the dawn of humanity through 2003.

Ashley Alexander-Lee '17, cybersecurity and operations fellow with Technology & Innovation, says password security can be a big hit or miss for some. College students are all digital natives, and some navigate their digital lives with a sense of resignation.

"The idea that you're going to get hacked no matter what is problematic," she said.

Whatever the day-to-day odds of getting hacked, there are still plenty of steps individuals and institutions can take to stay safer online, said Kevin Bell '05, an Army combat veteran who is a senior enforcement specialist in the Office of Special Measures of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the U.S. Treasury Department.

Even from his highly specialized perch, Bell's advice remains simple: Institutions need to invest time, treasure and talent to cybersecurity, and individuals need to do their part.

"Think through when you're clicking on things," he said. Bell cautions that most people expose themselves to cyberattack by clicking on links in emails.

Bottom line: Everyone plays a role in protecting not just their own data, but the digital systems they frequent.

Davidson participated in National Cyber Security Awareness Month this year with online assessments, weekly tips, campus workshops and other resources. In the spirit of "Let the clicker beware," below is a brief, eat-your-broccoli starter checklist with a few highlights, suggestions and reminders.

Cybersecurity Tips

  • Turn on auto-updates for software, and delete apps you no longer use. Bell: "If you're not updating automatically, then you're behind the power curve."
  • Use anti-virus software. Davis: "Almost every day there is at least one malicious person trying to attack your computer. Going without antivirus is like leaving your front door unlocked and open."
  • Update passwords to current guidelines. The advice these days is to pick a phrase uniquely memorable to you.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of an online password manager and/or two-factor authentication to protect your data across devices.
  • Think before you post. Avoid sharing information on social media that an identity thief could use, such as your birthdate or address. Be familiar with the privacy settings of any social network you use.
  • Sequester confidential information. Check your Google and Dropbox settings, use Secure Dropbox, turn on encryption and don't put confidential info on USB/thumb/flash drives, which can pick up and spread viruses to devices they frequent.
  • Take a full online security self-assessment through your workplace, bank or other service provider.

John Syme
josyme@davidson.edu
704-894-2523