The cyber home front
What our experts tell their friends and families to stay safe online
Editor's Note: October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. In partnership with the National Cyber Security Alliance, Raytheon cybersecurity experts share advice they offer their children, families and friends for staying safe online. Learn more at Stay Safe Online.
Raytheon cybersecurity experts use some of the most cutting-edge tools and strategies to combat attacks by the world’s toughest hackers. But the advice they offer their children, families and friends for staying safe online suggests it’s less about what you have and more about what you do.
FREE PUBLIC WI-FI
For example, these experts encourage family and friends who travel and have to use public Wi-Fi systems to invest in a VPN, or virtual private network. Although public Wi-Fi hotspots can be a convenience, especially when waiting for a flight, they can be hacker lightning rods.
“Even if the Wi-Fi is compromised, with a VPN, although the [hacker] will capture your network traffic, he won’t be able to see it because it’s encrypted,” said Dylan Owen, an IT security manager.
Without a VPN, experts strongly suggest using public Wi-Fi only for basic browsing, and not for email or business purposes.
“Definitely don’t do any banking, that’s for darn sure,” said John Durkop, a cybersecurity systems engineer.
Hyperlinks found in emails or on websites can be tempting to click on, especially if they promise a reward or great piece of content. But our experts warn against automatically clicking, because they links aren’t always what they seem. But there is a way to review the actual URL, or web address, a hyperlink directs to.
“If you hover over a link, it will tell you what the actual link is,” said Owen.
Essentially, says Shirali Patel, a cybersecurity program manager, don’t enter personal information such as a credit card number into a website with an "http" protocol, as the data is not secure.
“If you need to go to a http website, just read the info, don’t put any of your info on the site, and get out of there,” said Patel.
PASSWORDS AS FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
Owen advises his friends and family to take advantage of two-factor authentication when offered. One common two-factor authentication method involves requiring users to enter a passcode sent to them via email, text or phone.
Otherwise, passwords need to be complex in order to prevent so-called “brute-force attacks,” where a hacker tries to guess your password.
“A strong password should be over 12 characters, with upper and lower case letters, with a number and a symbol,” said Durkop. “That way it takes a hacker longer to get what they want. The longer it takes a hacker, the more likely they’re going to go find somebody else.”
Patel encourages parents to divide their home Wi-Fi networks into different accounts; keep one secure login for personal or business use, and one for guests or their children’s friends.
“When you have a lot of people in your house you really don’t know, it's advisable to not share your main password with them,” she said.
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
Household appliances that connect to the internet are growing in popularity. But experts warn they should be adopted with caution. Think of an IoT device as another window into your house; keep it closed and locked when not in use.
“Nobody cares what’s in your smart fridge,” said Patel. “But the endpoint you’ve now created as part of the fridge can be used to hack into your network connection and access your stored personal data.”
BE SMART IN GENERAL
Other tips include:
• Don’t store passwords unless you’re the only one using the device
• Turn off and unplug laptops and hard drives when not in use
• Keep systems updated with the latest security patches
• Remove unnecessary programs from new devices
WALK THE TALK
Parents need to set positive examples for their children. If they insist that their children have complex passwords or passphrases, then parents can't use screen unlock codes that a child could memorize by just peeking over their shoulder.
"Parents have to walk the walk if they talk the talk," said Russ Schrader, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. "If parents say no 'screens' at dinner, then it's no devices at the dinner table. Mom can't pick up the phone every time it dings for a quick message, and dad can't say 'Let me just check the score of the game.' That's the hardest thing to do, but it's leading by example and teaches children self-control."
EDUCATE THE GENERATIONS
Seniors may be particularly vulnerable to cyber hacking, especially scams involving sensitive personal information like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security numbers.
But even kids need proper guidance. Patel says she particularly tries to reach the millennials in her family.
“They’re the ones who will make up tomorrow’s workforce,” she said. “They need to start adopting good cyber practices today.”