Rep. Matt Lori: October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month

Published 9:32 am Friday, October 7, 2011

Computers have done much to improve our lives. The Internet makes communication quicker and easier and gives you almost any kind of information at the click of a mouse.
But the information highway has some speed bumps and dead ends as well. Scams can wipe out savings accounts. Identity theft threatens to ruin your credit history. Online predators try to befriend children for nefarious reasons.
With October being Cyber-Security Awareness Month, there’s no better time than the present to take steps to protect yourself, your family and your computer.
Most of the safeguards involve making common-sense decisions. For example, you need to be wary of any unsolicited e-mails that ask for personal information. As a rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
For example, if you are alerted that you have won a lottery drawing that you never entered, it’s likely a scam to get money. If you get an e-mail from a friend or relative who says they need money sent to a foreign country because they lost their wallet, call them to check on their status instead of wiring money. Never give your Social Security Number, bank account information or debit card password online unless you initiated the purchase and are making the purchase on a secure website that you trust.
Here are some very common-sense ways to keep your online experiences safe:
• Password management: Don’t use passwords that someone can guess, such as the last four digits of your phone number, the last four of your Social Security Number or your date of birth. Most passwords should include numbers and both uppercase and lowercase letters. Never leave your passwords written down near your computer where someone can find them, change your passwords often, and keep them written down in a secure place if you have difficulty remembering them.
• Anti-virus software: There are several kinds of anti-virus software on the market — some are free, others charge an annual fee — that are designed keep your computer free of viruses and attacks. Make sure the software is set up to scan for viruses often, and be sure to check for updates as those who produce viruses are constantly coming up with newer versions.
• Lock your computer when you are away from it, even if you are just leaving for a few minutes, especially at public computers such as those in libraries. It only takes a few minutes for someone to access all your information.
• Disconnect from the Internet when you are not using your computer. The likelihood of being infected with a virus is much higher if your computer is always online.
• Evaluate your security settings: Enabling some features for your convenience may leave you more vulnerable to viruses and malware. Make sure there’s an active firewall to add another level of protection.
If a child has access to your computer, it presents added challenges. Children are naturally curious and often don’t consider the consequences of visiting unsafe websites. Here are some tips you can use if your children or grandchildren will be using the computer:
• Be involved. Try to come up with activities you can work on together, such as playing games or doing homework research. This will allow you to supervise your child’s activities and be involved in their play or schoolwork.
• Keep your computer in an open area. This way you can easily monitor the child’s computer activity without appearing to be nosy. If you see behavior that could have negative consequences, you can intervene.
• Set rules. Make sure your child knows there are boundaries of what he or she is allowed to do on the computer. If you bookmark safe websites as favorites, your child will have easy access to trusted sites and will not stray by keying in the wrong Web address.
Cyber-security is mostly common sense. Follow these guidelines and you can enjoy a safe and successful trip along the information superhighway.