What is cyber security?
It seems that everything relies on computers and the internet now — communication (email, cellphones), entertainment (digital cable, mp3s), transportation (car engine systems, airplane navigation), shopping (online stores, credit cards), medicine (equipment, medical records), and the list goes on. How much of your daily life relies on computers? How much of your personal information is stored either on your own computer or on someone else’s system?
Cyber security involves protecting that information by preventing, detecting, and responding to attacks.
What are the risks?
There are many risks, some more serious than others. Among these dangers are viruses erasing your entire system, someone breaking into your system and altering files, someone using your computer to attack others, or someone stealing your credit card information and making unauthorized purchases. Unfortunately, there’s no 100% guarantee that even with the best precautions some of these things won’t happen to you, but there are steps you can take to minimize the chances.
What can you do?
The first step in protecting yourself is to recognize the risks and become familiar with some of the terminology associated with them.
This series of cyber security tips will give you more information about how to recognize and protect yourself from attacks.
What are patches?
Similar to the way fabric patches are used to repair holes in clothing, software patches repair holes in software programs. Patches are updates that fix a particular problem or vulnerability within a program. Sometimes, instead of just releasing a patch, vendors will release an upgraded version of their software, although they may refer to the upgrade as a patch.
How do you find out what patches you need to install?
When patches are available, vendors usually put them on their websites for users to download. It is important to install a patch as soon as possible to protect your computer from attackers who would take advantage of the vulnerability. Attackers may target vulnerabilities for months or even years after patches are available. Some software will automatically check for updates, and many vendors offer users the option to receive automatic notification of updates through a mailing list. If these automatic options are available, we recommend that you take advantage of them. If they are not available, check your vendors’ websites periodically for updates.
Make sure that you only download software or patches from websites that you trust. Do not trust a link in an email message—attackers have used email messages to direct users to malicious websites where users install viruses disguised as patches. Also, beware of email messages that claim that they have attached the patch to the message—these attachments are often viruses.
Both the National Cyber Security Alliance and US-CERT have identified this topic as one of the top tips for home users.
The Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative
President Obama has identified cybersecurity as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation, but one that we as a government or as a country are not adequately prepared to counter. Shortly after taking office, the President therefore ordered a thorough review of federal efforts to defend the U.S. information and communications infrastructure and the development of a comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure.
In May 2009, the President accepted the recommendations of the resulting Cyberspace Policy Review, including the selection of an Executive Branch Cybersecurity Coordinator who will have regular access to the President. The Executive Branch was also directed to work closely with all key players in U.S. cybersecurity, including state and local governments and the private sector, to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents; strengthen public/private partnerships to find technology solutions that ensure U.S. security and prosperity; invest in the cutting-edge research and development necessary for the innovation and discovery to meet the digital challenges of our time; and begin a campaign to promote cybersecurity awareness and digital literacy from our boardrooms to our classrooms and begin to build the digital workforce of the 21st century. Finally, the President directed that these activities be conducted in a way that is consistent with ensuring the privacy rights and civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and cherished by all Americans.
The activities under way to implement the recommendations of the Cyberspace Policy Review build on the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) launched by President George W. Bush in National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (NSPD-54/ HSPD-23) in January 2008. President Obama determined that the CNCI and its associated activities should evolve to become key elements of a broader, updated national U.S. cybersecurity strategy. These CNCI initiatives will play a key role in supporting the achievement of many of the key recommendations of President Obama’s Cyberspace Policy Review.
The CNCI consists of a number of mutually reinforcing initiatives with the following major goals designed to help secure the United States in cyberspace:
- To establish a front line of defense against today’s immediate threats by creating or enhancing shared situational awareness of network vulnerabilities, threats, and events within the Federal Government—and ultimately with state, local, and tribal governments and private sector partners—and the ability to act quickly to reduce our current vulnerabilities and prevent intrusions.
- To defend against the full spectrum of threats by enhancing U.S. counterintelligence capabilities and increasing the security of the supply chain for key information technologies.
- To strengthen the future cybersecurity environment by expanding cyber education; coordinating and redirecting research and development efforts across the Federal Government; and working to define and develop strategies to deter hostile or malicious activity in cyberspace.
In building the plans for the CNCI, it was quickly realized that these goals could not be achieved without also strengthening certain key strategic foundational capabilities within the Government. Therefore, the CNCI includes funding within the federal law enforcement, intelligence, and defense communities to enhance such key functions as criminal investigation; intelligence collection, processing, and analysis; and information assurance critical to enabling national cybersecurity efforts.
The CNCI was developed with great care and attention to privacy and civil liberties concerns in close consultation with privacy experts across the government. Protecting civil liberties and privacy rights remain fundamental objectives in the implementation of the CNCI.
In accord with President Obama’s declared intent to make transparency a touchstone of his presidency, the Cyberspace Policy Review identified enhanced information sharing as a key component of effective cybersecurity.