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By: U.S. Senator Jim Risch and Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Suzanne Spaulding
Date: October 26, 2016

Americans and many around the world are living increasingly digital lives. According to one recent study, there will be 6.4 billion Internet-connected devices in use this year alone – including mobile phones, laptops and Internet routers – a 30 percent increase just from 2015. By 2020, that number is projected to jump to more than 20 billion. This means there will be more than two connected devices for every individual on the planet.

While this growing connectivity brings many benefits for consumers, it also creates new opportunities for sophisticated cyber criminals – as well as foreign entities – to intercept personal information, disrupt the delivery of essential services and even compromise our national security and critical infrastructure.

Today, cyber-attacks are among the most serious threats facing the United States and our citizens. The Department of Justice’s Internet Crime Complaint Center recorded 269,422 cybersecurity related complaints in its 2014 report, an increase of more than 1,500 percent since 2000. According to another survey, more than one-third of U.S. consumers reported having experienced a computer virus, hacking incident or other cyber-attack in the last year. With vulnerabilities always present in advancing technology, and cyber incidents constantly making headlines, it is important to take cybersecurity seriously, whether it be at home, at work or on the go.

Through presidential proclamation, October has been designated National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and we believe this month presents a unique opportunity for you and your family to reflect on the potential threats posed both at home and at work to ensure you have the resources needed to stay safer and more secure online.

• Keep your information with the highest appropriate level of privacy. Avoid sharing your full name, address and other personal information online. Frequently check a website’s privacy options to ensure you have enabled the highest level of privacy because options get updated or changed completely as the website regularly evolves.

• When in doubt, throw it out. Links in emails, tweets, posts and online advertisements are often used by cyber-criminals to compromise your computer or mobile device. If it looks suspicious, delete it, even if you know the source. If appropriate, mark the message as “junk email” so future messages from the sender do not end up in your inbox.

• Set strong passwords. Setting passwords that are long, unique and hard to guess is one of the most important things you can do to protect your online accounts. Changing passwords regularly and using different passwords for different accounts goes a long way to protect your online information.

• Secure your accounts. Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many websites now offer additional ways for you to verify your identity before you conduct business on their sites, such as two-factor authentication.

• Secure your mobile device. In order to prevent theft and unauthorized access, use a passcode to lock your mobile device and always lock it when it is not in use. Never leave your mobile device unattended in a public place.

• If you see something, say something. Suspicious online activity should be reported immediately to your local authorities. Stopping future attacks depends on detecting current threats.

We know firsthand from our work in the U.S. Senate and the Department of Homeland Security that individuals, private sector companies, states and the federal government all share the responsibility of confronting the sophisticated threat of cyber-attacks. We are proud to say that solutions to some of today’s security challenges are being developed at our national laboratories, including the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Today, INL is the nation's leading nuclear energy laboratory as well as a world leader in securing our cyber networks. The valuable work done at INL lays the groundwork for fortifying our nation's electric grid and wireless networks and mitigating emerging cybersecurity threats. 

Ultimately, reducing our nation’s exposure to cyber vulnerabilities requires an all-hands-on-deck effort. During National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we ask you to continue working with us to make our cyberspace more secure. Our daily life depends on a stable and resilient cyberspace. Learn more about safe cyber practices by visiting https://www.us-cert.gov/home-and-business; and https://www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect

U.S. Senator Jim Risch serves on both the Senate Intelligence and Energy committees.  His state is home to the Idaho National Lab, the nation’s leading nuclear energy laboratory. Suzanne Spaulding is Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).