A decade ago, the average household was not aware of the risks that cyber threats posed to their personal data. The majority of us simply enjoyed the convenience of emerging services like online banking and shopping that made our day-to-day lives easier. But that was ten years ago. Today, due to an increase in both frequency and severity of cyber attacks, all Americans need to join the ranks of cyber security professionals to understand the threat to their data and what they must do to protect themselves online.
Assessing the threats
Today’s cyber space is inhabited with both cyber criminals and nation-state actors (individuals sponsored by an official government) who are looking to conduct malicious activity that harms individual interests and national security. It’s here that the National Security Agency (NSA) engages in a constantly evolving battle to defend against cyber actors who need very few resources and no geographic proximity to launch attacks. There are also no boundaries to the negative effect of cyber attacks, which impact both the public and private sector. Attacks like the ones launched against Sony and Equifax deny consumers access to products and security of their information, while critical infrastructure attacks like the ones Ukraine suffered threaten the security of a nation.
Developing a plan
Another dangerous trend the online community is fighting is the use of Ransomware, which denies users access to their data or accounts until they pay a set price to the malicious actor holding the information hostage. This technique was used in the recent Petya attack and has the potential to not only impact individuals and companies across the world but also endanger the security of a country’s critical infrastructure. This broad range of threats demands an in-depth defense posture, which the NSA is striving to build in concert with our partners domestically and internationally.
Playing your part
But this isn’t just a government issue; There are a lot of steps you can take to help keep yourself and your country safe in cyber space. Implementing practices like those in the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect. initiative will begin to reduce the risk to your online security from malicious cyber actors. This includes setting strong passwords and avoiding repeated passwords across multiple accounts. Another way to protect yourself online is to keep your anti-virus and operating system software up-to-date. These updates help to patch known vulnerabilities that cyber actors take advantage of to carry out malicious activity. We encourage everyone to visit www.nsa.gov/what-we-do/cybersecurity/ for more information on how to safeguard their information.
It is all of our responsibilities to do our part to safeguard critical information. Be aware of the risks that are out there and defend yourself against them. There’s no going back.
George C. Barnes, Deputy Director, National Security Agency, [email protected]