Why It's More Important Than Ever to be Cybersecurity-Aware
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Why It’s More Important Than Ever To Be Cybersecurity Aware

Angie Marcos

Many Americans still aren't sure how to best protect their information online. Here’s what you should know.

Why It's More Important Than Ever to be Cybersecurity-Aware

With an estimated 3.8 billion internet users worldwide in 2017, the amount of time and types of interactions we have online put us at risk for cyberattacks both at work and on our personal computers and devices. The most effective way to prevent an attack, say cybersecurity experts, is to be an "informed internet citizen."  ​Photo courtesy of CSU Northridge


Stop. Think. Connect.

These may seem like simple actions, but many of us forget to do just that when we're overseeing bank transactions, shopping, or filling out confidential forms online or just sharing some personal information in what appears to be a straightforward email.

But stopping to consider what you're sharing and with whom can keep you safe from being hacked. "It all comes down to being an informed internet citizen," says Ed Hudson, Interim Chief Information Security Officer at the California State University, Office of the Chancellor, in Long Beach.

While specialized software programs, education efforts and cybersecurity expert teams do their best to ward off potential harm at home and in the workplace (cybersecurity is in fact one of the fastest-growing fields in the United States), protecting you online interactions should be the first line of defense.

Simple steps like regularly checking your bank account, credit card and other valuable online assets can make a colossal difference in tracking security.

"There is no set way or guarantee that you will stop a cyberattack, but you can catch it early on and lessen the damage," Hudson says.

The Biggest Cybersecurity Threat? You

In order to successfully infiltrate your workplace system or your personal information, hackers must first obtain a way into your online identity portal.

With technology and privacy laws being what they are in the U.S., "…our data and personal information are all over the place, and we don't have much control over it or how it's used," says Hudson.

Still, it's the user in most cases who is openly and willingly (if unwittingly) divulging their information to the system hackers.

"Nearly every instance of cybersecurity in media is represented by a hacker and it's almost all wrong," says Bryan Dixon, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at California State University, Chico. "Hacking is not as easy as it's shown to be in media, and more often than not requires social engineering or tricking a user into providing a vulnerability."

Explains Mikhail Gofman, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science at California State University, Fullerton and director of the campus' Center for Cybersecurity: "Hackers are portrayed as individuals who breach the government systems in a matter of minutes or seconds. In reality, many attacks take careful planning and significant time in order to execute correctly."

Marina Mondin, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, cautions users to especially be wary of smartphone activity.

"We, the people, are the single most critical failure point of the system and by far the greatest threat," Dr. Mondin says. "The weakest link in the chain is the end user, the people that use and rely on services that more and more are handled through the internet."

She adds that, "with the proliferation of social media, we have exposed and share massive amounts of personal information that can easily be analyzed to extract passwords to protected sites. Our smartphones are a treasure trove of personal data and we are doing more and more with them."

Cybersecurity experts agree that because we are susceptible to a cyberattack at any time, it is imperative to be certain of where and with whom we share our information while online.  

Being alerted to cyberattacks early is crucial to cutting the scale of the harm done, Hudson warns, adding that many credit card hackers attempt small purchases first, before making a high value purchase. "Be informed and pay attention," he says simply. "That's what it comes down to."

Learn about cybersecurity degree programs available at the California State University.