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Protecting Yourself in the Digital Age

By Capt. Bryan Lopez, Retired
Space and Naval Warfare System Command

Network security in the workplace is of paramount importance to our daily mission, but we can’t forget to protect ourselves against cyber vulnerability in our personal lives as well. Here are a few tips to help:

Operating System Updates and Anti-Virus Software
One of the easiest ways of protecting yourself against potential cyber viruses and attacks is by updating your computer and smart phone’s operating systems. Many companies make this easy with their “auto-update” feature, ensuring consumers are provided with the industry’s most up-to-date security patches as soon as they are available. Along with keeping your operating system up to date, you should keep your anti-virus software loaded with the latest updates as well. That being said, exercise caution when choosing your anti-virus software. Some vendors have known foreign-government affiliations and should be avoided.

Internet of Things
The Internet of Things or “IoT” refers to the proliferating number of networked devices that most of us already have in our homes. Late model TVs, printers, refrigerators, ovens, dish washers, microwaves and even toasters may be smart devices. They wirelessly plug into your home network and collect behavioral information by passively “listening” and, in some cases, “watching” your behaviors. Should we be concerned about this? Yes. Never share any information you don’t have to. Read the small print to find out how to disable the “passive information gathering” features.

Personal Digital Assistants
Personal digital assistants are designed to make your life easier. To do that, they also passively “collect” your personal information for marketing purposes by listening to your conversations. Hackers can use these features to turn personal digital assistants into a wiretap. When you’re not using these devices, shut them off and take the extra step of unplugging them to ensure they’re disconnected.

Social Media and Online Games
Online games are notorious hacker attack vectors. They gather information and expose unsuspecting victims to viruses and attacks. Social media also presents vulnerabilities. Set your privacy settings to “friends only” and then only share personal identifiable information with known contacts you have confirmed are actually your friends. Never accept connections from anyone you don’t know, especially someone who created a profile featuring only one picture.

An information graphic depicting the dangers of cyber attacks. (U.S. Navy graphic/Released)
An information graphic depicting the dangers of cyber attacks. (U.S. Navy graphic/Released)

 

Two Factor Authentication
Two factor authentication requires you to provide a second method of identification verification information, along with your password, in order to gain access. Some methods include a code sent via text message to your phone, a finger print or retina scan, or even a fob. These steps add a few seconds to gaining access, but are well worth the inconvenience. Whenever possible, if your application or web service gives you the option, take advantage of the opportunity to increase the security of your connection through a second factor.

Cookies
Cookies are small bits of code installed on your computer when you visit a website. Even after you close your browser, cookies continue to track your movements on the internet. They are advertised as a convenience by speeding the process of reloading websites you’ve previously visited. This convenience isn’t worth the vulnerability. In your browser’s privacy settings, you can block cookies; however, this might prevent you from accessing some websites you want to visit. Instead, another method of protecting yourself is to temporarily allow cookies, but also set your browser to delete cookies at the end of each browsing session.

Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth
Wi-Fi is vulnerable to attack. Always password protect your Wi-Fi. Ensure your router’s firmware is up to date. Use Virtual Private Networks, which create a secure tunnel and encrypt your data, especially when using free Wi-Fi in public places like airports and coffee shops. Whenever possible only visit websites that use the secure browser extension “https” where you will see a lock icon.

GPS helps us find our way around, but it also allows your movements to be tracked. Disable it when not in use. On some phones, the quick toggle doesn’t shut down your GPS and it continues to run in the background. To be sure, go into settings to disable it.

Bluetooth is another great digital enhancer that allows us to stream audio and even print at close range, but it is vulnerable to hackers who might want to capture your personal identifiable information, passwords and accounts. Turn it off when not in use.

There is no guarantee that these suggestions will protect you from a virus or an attack, but they will go a long way in decreasing your vulnerability in your everyday life.

Editor’s note: SPAWAR develops, delivers and sustains advanced cyber capabilities for our warfighters. SPAWAR, along with its system centers, space field activity and its partnership with three program executive offices, provides the hardware and software needed to execute Navy missions. With nearly 10,000 active duty military and civilian professionals located around the world and close to the fleet, SPAWAR is at the forefront of research, engineering and acquisition, keeping our forces connected around the globe.

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