Ole Miss promotes National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Posted on Oct 17 2017 - 8:01am by special contributor Haley Myatt

The University of Mississippi is participating in the annual campaign National Cyber Security Awareness Month, which aims at promoting the importance of cybersecurity.

Every October, NCSAM is designed to engage and educate the public and private sector partners about the tools and resources needed to stay safe online, thus increasing resilience against cyber incidents.

Tiffany Schoenike, director of campaigns and initiatives at the National Cyber Security Alliances, said its website tries to provide people a lot of actionable advice and simple tips to securing their safety online from the No. 1 issue of identity theft. She said while it is providing awareness, people should also know there is no way anything can ever be 100 percent un-hackable.

“Feeling safe enables you to do what you love,” Schoenike said. “If you share with care, it really enhances your life with everyone around you, enabling you to connect. While it’s only a monthlong event, we are encouraging it to be an opportunity for everyone to engage in online safety year round.”

Michael Hall, IT security coordinator, and Nishanth Rodrigues, chief information officer, said phishing and malware are the biggest threats the Ole Miss community faces and what most people come to their department for. The duo agreed this month is a prime opportunity to learn about and embrace cyber security in the rapidly changing technological world.

Brian Young, interim head of science library and digital media studies professor, said he knows people who entrusted certain websites that looked legit to buy things off of the internet but the site ended up stealing their personal information.

“Some websites look so real and so I wonder if these people (hackers) were to put more effort into the presence of their website, would they be able to hack more computers?” Young said. “There would be a lot of issues of people falling for these scams if their site looked professional and held to the standards we set for how a website should look.”

Young said he thinks the awareness month’s efforts are taking steps in the right direction to inform the public about the dangers of the internet if not used responsibly. Because there is an month for this, Young said it means that not enough people know about it, and so they need to be engaged with digital media around them.

This year marks the 14th year of the awareness month. Instructional design and training specialist Andrew Davis said he is usually not in favor of months devoted to topics like this because he thinks it implies that cyber security and internet hygiene is not important during the other 11 months of the year.

“The issue itself is critical,” Davis said. “Since most people’s lives are so consolidated on mobile devices, it’s more important than ever to secure those devices and all accounts attached to them. Mobile devices are a single point of failure. I think people definitely need to be aware of the risks and rewards that come with digital convenience.”

Young, Hall and Rodrigues agreed that because the country has become so reliant on technology, criminals increasingly focus on cyber, and it has resulted in more news as dialogue. Young said people are becoming less secure in their privacy in exchange for convenience and that before the internet, there were very few ways for someone to steal your information.

“People no longer need to don masks and rob banks; instead, they can perform these same acts from the privacy of their homes and achieve even more grand results,” Hall and Rodrigues said.

When asked if they feel “safe” using the internet, Davis and Young said they feel safe because they use the best practices to avoid any cyber threats.

“I am far more worried that unscrupulous corporations like Equifax and government agencies put my information at risk,” Davis said. “In the case of Equifax, I don’t really have much choice in the matter.”

At least 41 states have introduced more than 240 bills or resolutions related to cybersecurity in 2017 with key areas of legislative activity including promoting workforce training in technology, funding for cybersecurity programs and initiatives and targeting computer crimes. Mississippi alone passed legislation establishing enterprise security programs overseeing cybersecurity across the state.

The Information Technology Department on campus posted a link to a list of ways individuals can stay safe online. The list includes keeping your security software current, protecting your personal information with strong passcodes and using ad blockers and tracking protectors on your desktop web browser.

Davis elaborated on the list, saying people should keep information about themselves on their social media accounts locked down and not allow social media accounts to broadcast their location.

“There are downfalls to everything,” Davis said. “On the whole, the internet may be one of mankind’s greatest achievements: There may be some snags, but we shouldn’t ever forget the big picture.”

For additional information on tips or advice to protect online information, visit Ole Miss IT’s website and Stop, Think, Connect’s site.