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Working Together to Stay Safe Online

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Technology has brought tremendous improvement to our quality of life, but with these advances come increased vulnerability. Government is taking steps to protect our vulnerable systems, but folks must realize just how important it is for individual Americans to take their cyber-security seriously, not just as a matter of personal safety, but as a matter of our country's security as well. Those who take it upon themselves to implement relatively simple security measures are not only protecting themselves and their families, but are in effect contributing to our national efforts to secure critical infrastructures like telecommunications, transportation, and financial services.

October marks National Cyber Security Awareness Month, which was instituted by the National Cyber Security Alliance. The Alliance was created to get private industry, all levels of government and home computer users involved in securing cyber-space. The Homeland Security Department's cyber-security division, the FBI, the Secret Service and Postal Service are all members of the Alliance, which launched this month an ad campaign to encourage folks to stay safe online by taking individual responsibility in improving their cyber security preparedness.

In conjunction with the awareness campaign, the Alliance this week released the results of one of the largest and most comprehensive in-home studies ever conducted on the security of computer users. The study found that most computer users think they are safe but lack basic protections against viruses, spyware, hackers, and other online threats. In addition, large majorities of home computer users have been infected with viruses and spyware and remain highly vulnerable to future infections, yet most continue to keep sensitive personal and financial information on their computers.

With over 500 new viruses discovered each month, it is important to utilize anti-virus software in order to protect ourselves and those we communicate with.

Additionally, we can use a firewall, which is an "internal lock" for information on our computer. Many computer operating systems already have firewalls installed-we just have to turn them on.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that no one can attack your computer if it is not connected to the Internet. So if you or your children are not using your Internet connection, just turn it off.

Finally, we must be careful to share files only with people we trust, to use unique passwords that we keep private and to download the latest security patches.

With home computers used as springboards for attacks like the "MyDoom" virus that disabled computers worldwide earlier this year, it is imperative that we each play a role in creating a culture of security when it comes to cyber-space.

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