Guest view: Are you doing enough when it comes to cyber security?

John J. "Ski" Sygielski, president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College - (Photo / Submitted)

With the new school year in full swing and the busy holiday season just around the corner, it’s important to take a moment to think about how we keep our personal information safe.

Whether you use a computer, tablet, cellphone – or even a health tracking device – hackers are always looking for new ways to grab your personal data. Is the website you are using secure? Is the email from your bank requesting that you update your password authentic? Could the ATM or gas pump credit card reader have a “skimmer” installed to steal your credit card information?

These are just a few examples that should make us question the safety of our personal data.

More than 3.7 billion humans around the world are using the internet, generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Generating such large amounts of data means more and more personal data is vulnerable to data breaches. The massive Equifax data breach in May 2017, for example, exposed the information of 145.5 million people, including highly sensitive personal and financial details about consumer, such as names, social security numbers, birth dates, street addresses, credit card numbers, email addresses, phone numbers, driver’s license numbers and other data that has not been completely determined.

This exposed data is often used by criminals to commit identity theft, a crime where we tend to think of the victims as primarily adults. Unfortunately, children are victims, too, mainly because they have a “clean slate” with no credit reports tied to their social security numbers. More than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017, and two-thirds of those victims were age 7 or younger. For these young victims, the effects of having their information stolen could mean years of damaging consequences.

Even as cyber-crimes against individuals continue to rise, crimes against businesses also show no signs of slowing down. For example, over the last year:

Cybersecurity attacks cost small- and medium-sized businesses an average of $2,235,000.

Most malware – 92 percent – is delivered via email.

Nearly two-thirds of small businesses say attacks are becoming more severe and more sophisticated.

Worldwide cybersecurity spending will soon reach $96 billion a year.

Like other businesses, it is not enough for academic institutions to keep their data safe, they need to continuously educate their employees and students to do the same. HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, works toward this goal every day, and I encourage others to do the same. The college has held information sessions that include how to identify phishing emails and create secure passwords, developed a website of resources related to cybersecurity, and embedded videos on the College’s portal that provide cybersecurity awareness and tips.

Terms like malware, ransomware and screen scraping should be known by all. Educating users with monthly security newsletters, online training materials and security websites is necessary for anyone serious about this issue. Providing highly skilled teachers and a variety of security-based classes will help prepare the security specialists of tomorrow.

October is “National Cyber Security Awareness Month.” Born under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Alliance, this time should be used by all organizations to reassess current security practices and commit to doing even more to protect their data.

John J. “Ski” Sygielski is president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College.

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