With growing dependence on information technology and increasing threats against it, President Barack Obama declared October to be National Cybersecurity Month. The Defense Department is one of the largest computer users in the world, and security has to be in the forefront of all users, officials say.
Navy Capt. Sandra Jamshidi, director of the department’s Information Assurance Program, said that if everyone did their part for cybersecurity, it would “filter out the low-level hacker type of attacks, so we’re better able to go after the professional hackers who do the most harm to us.”
Everyone needs to take precautions, the captain said during a recent interview. “If you’re locking your car doors, then you help make the parking lot safer,” she said. “If everyone is locking their car doors, then you make the parking lot a less attractive target. It’s the same for cybersecurity. If we all pay attention to security, then it raises the threshold across the entire Internet.”
The frontline of this cyberwar is the keyboard, and it doesn’t matter if the keyboard is at the home or at work, Jamshidi said. Computer users often inadvertently carry viruses back and forth between home and work computers.
Users have a better chance of detecting something unusual on their computers, she said. People need to understand what is normal for the computer and the software they use. “If we raise awareness of what could happen, then maybe we’re raising the awareness of detection,” she said.
Cybersecurity doesn’t just happen. Users of home systems need to have firewalls in place. They need to have anti-spyware and anti-virus programs up and running in the computers. And they need to constantly update the defenses, Jamshidi said.
Computer users, the captain said, need to understand that nothing remains static in cyberspace.
“The threats change, the software changes, the sophistication of the threat changes,” she said. “We also change the way we defend. It’s a persistent threat, and [hackers] will look for other ways to attack. If you had computer defenses that worked two years ago, they won’t work today.”
The Internet is a lot like a large city, Jamshidi said. Overall, it is a safe area, but it’s safest on Main Street – where all the lights work and there are police and people around, the captain said.
“But any city has dark streets and back alleys,” she said. “Some are so dangerous that the military declares them off-limits, and the same holds true for the Internet. It becomes very difficult to separate out legal and illegal activities on the back streets of the Internet.”
Gambling, pornography and music-sharing sites are rampant with malicious code, the captain said. “If you are going to be out in the riskier parts of the Internet, then you have to have better defenses on your computer,” she said. Better yet, she added, stay out of those parts of town.