October 4, 2009

US Offers Guidance To Boost Cybersecurity At Home, Work

The federal government wants Americans to be aware that their home and office computers are one of the major national security threats.

The Obama administration is issuing guidance on cybersecurity, urging citizens to "think before you click" and to know who may be on the other end of an instant message. Anything you do in cyberspace stays in cyberspace for potential criminals to see, steal and use against you or your government.

The Internet is the "soft underbelly" of the U.S. today, and has "introduced a level of vulnerability that is unprecedented," said former national intelligence director Michael McConnell recently at a new cybersecurity exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, the Pentagon's computer systems are probed some 360 million times daily, while a well-known power company admits its networks see up to 70,000 scans a day, according to an Associated Press report citing cybersecurity expert James Lewis.

Although the majority of these probes of government and critical infrastructure networks are harmless, some are crimes, McConnell said.

The most perilous are probes are those aimed at espionage, or those that seek to tamper with or destroy data.

The hackers range from terrorists looking to damage the U.S. economy, to nation-states seeking to install malicious computer code into the electrical grid that could be activated at some time in the future.

"We are the fat kid in the race," Lewis told the Associated Press.

"We are the biggest target, we have the most to steal, and everybody wants to get us."

Steps to improve computer security at home include making proper use of antivirus software, spam filters, parental controls and firewalls.
Consistently backing up critical files to external computer drives along with thinking carefully before sending information over the Internet are also advised, particularly when using wireless or unsecured public networks.

October is the Sixth Annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month.  The campaign is a collective effort among the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center , the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division, the National Cyber Security Alliance and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.  Additional information can be viewed at http://www.msisac.org/awareness/oct09/2009awareness.cfm.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team provides additional guidance about common security issues for non-technical computer users at http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/.