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When you are driving a car, you must remain defensively alert at all times. You check your mirrors. You moderate your speed if you get too close to the car in front of you.
We do many things to stay safe while driving and commonly do them so automatically that we are unaware of them. When you consider how many drivers there are in the United State and how many cars and how many miles they are driven, these automatic safety behaviors are extremely effective practices.
It has been more than 30 years since the introduction of the first personal computer and almost 20 years since the emergence of the Internet into our daily lives. Yet, far too many of us do not drive on its highways with the same type of defensive awareness we use on ordinary roadways.
Cyber attacks are everyday news. If they were not growing increasingly alarming, we might become numb to them. We repeatedly see sophisticated global organizations severely compromised, sometimes for months or years without their awareness. How then can any individual or company possibly hope to protect itself from a cyber intruder?
You cannot prevent every attack. If the intelligence service of a national government wants in to your computer, they will almost certainly succeed. It is important to understand that some intrusions may not be preventable; however, there is still a great deal you can do to deter many attacks and minimize damage through early detection.
You get into your car and turn it on with a key or key fob. You keep it safe until you need it. Passwords serve the same purpose for your computer. They should be kept safe, which means at a minimum:
Checking your mirrors is standard practice when changing lanes or backing up. Driving will teach you quickly that assuming what you are doing is safe is quite dangerous. Use the same caution with your computer behavior. Not every email from a financial institution or vendor is genuine. Be cautious. Read the domain name carefully and call your bank or vendor before responding to any email out of the ordinary. Attractive strangers from foreign countries do not really want to meet you. They do want you to visit their website so they can infect your computer.
You check the condition of your car frequently. Every time you drive you look at the gas gauge. Less often but periodically you or someone else checks your oil, tires, brakes and other parts. Your computer deserves the same attention. Anti-malware, security patches for your operating system, internal monitoring software are some of the means to keep systems of all sizes safe for use.
You cannot be 100% safe. But you can be safer than you are now. It begins with being aware of what you are doing and of the need for a defensive attitude.