SANS Institute introduces #securethefamily campaign to help protect families online

This October, for Cybersecurity Awareness Month, SANS Institute (SANS) is encouraging everyone to spread security awareness programs beyond the boundaries of the office and to help all employees and co-workers apply the lessons learned at work to protect their families and friends with the global #SecureTheFamily initiative.

Today, we are more digitally connected than ever before, as more people work from home, remote e-learning has grown exponentially, and Wi-Fi-enabled “smart” devices increasingly occupy different aspects of our daily lives. Connected personal assistant devices can control your smart home devices, digital refrigerators can track your food inventory, video monitors allow you to keep an eye on your little one anywhere from your smartphone, thermostats and light bulbs can connect to your home Wi-Fi, and some washing machines let you remotely schedule wash cycles in advance. Our children are super savvy about the latest model of mobile phone, while our aging parents need help with theirs. All of this connectivity brings plenty of benefits and convenience, but each connected device also brings increased risk.

“Every personal device used is a potential entry for system threats,” says Heather Mahalik, Digital Forensics Expert, SANS Faculty Fellow, Cellebrite Senior Director of Digital Intelligence, and mother of two. “Cyber attackers can target anyone’s home – no one is invulnerable,” she says. “Risks to our digital safety are everywhere, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. Ms. Mahalik developed the SANS Security Awareness curriculum for #SecureTheFamily with practical advice on securing personal devices and data and how to keep families safe online.

Ms. Mahalik notes a few misconceptions about individual-based security practices, such as your home network is too small to be at risk of a cyberattack and that your smart devices are secure right out of the box. So how do we secure our homes, and more importantly, protect our families? Ms. Mahalik highlights some key issues:

  1. Backing Up Your Digital Information

Most of us know that we need to back up our data, but how often do we do it? And are we sure we know where it’s going? Our data security depends on good habits such as strong organization of our passwords and consistent backups. Separate your work from personal items from family storage plans so that sensitive items are not shared with those who don’t need access to them.

  1. Protecting Your WiFi Network

Another crucial step is to secure your home WiFi network. Make sure you change the network’s name first – don’t leave it as “Admin” or use your last name. Also, change the network password to a word or phrase that your family will remember, but outsiders won’t easily guess.

  1. Balancing Your Children’s Privacy

When they log onto their devices, our children and teens face numerous risks, including cyberbullying and potential exposure to online predators through social media and video gaming. In fact, research shows that 40% of kids in grades 4-8 report they have connected or chatted online with a stranger, 51% of all teens use at least one social networking app regularly, and 90% of teenagers have regular access to a mobile device. Tweens and teens spend so much time on their digital devices that parents can face challenges striking an appropriate balance between security and accessibility. To balance children’s privacy online, parents need to monitor kids’ online activities and set screen time limits.

  1. Securing Your Devices

From very young toddlers up through high schoolers, our children are more likely than ever to be attached to one or more digital devices, which comes with considerable risk. As parents we must protect our children by securing their devices. For Android devices, set a passcode, enable FindMyDevice to locate or lock a lost device, and establish a phone number/email that can be used to validate your information. For Kindles/ eReaders, enable the lock screen by setting a passcode, enable FindMyKindle to locate or lock a lost device, and update your personal information to include your name and email address in case the device is lost. For all iOS devices, set a passcode, enable FindMyPhone to locate or lock a lost device, establish a phone number/email that can be used to validate your iCloud information, and create backups with iCloud or iTunes.

  1. Safeguarding School-Issued Devices

Make sure to secure school-issued Chromebooks and other devices by setting passcodes, knowing what location artifacts are being tracked, and ensuring children fully understand Internet safety. Many children and teens will try to bypass the security measures on their devices, so be vigilant against the use of jailbreaks, hacking, and other techniques that kids might use that invite additional security risks.

The #SecureTheFamily initiative will help you better educate your workforce, friends, and family with techniques to secure home devices and personal data, as well as how parents can protect their children and teens online.

“Because it’s never too late to practice good cyber hygiene,” reminds Ms. Mahalik.