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June 7, 2018 / 2:17 PM / in 8 days

Education is as Important as Protection When It Comes to Battling Cybercrime

When the public gets the right tools to fight cyberthreats, society and cybersecurity firms win.

When you consider today’s growing volume of cyberthreats to consumers and businesses, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

But all is not lost, thanks in part to a cybersecurity industry that is fighting every day to protect people and companies by keeping sensitive data from falling into the hands of cybercriminals and others who would use it for harm.

“There’s a tremendous amount of bad news out there,” says Vincent Steckler, CEO of Avast, a cybersecurity company with U.S. headquarters in Redwood City, California. “Just as there are all these bad guys out there trying to attack, there are good guys out there, too, and our job is to protect [people] against those threats on the internet and to make sure [they] feel safe.”

Admittedly, educating the public about cybersecurity is a tough sell. News of ransomware and viruses hits the airwaves every day, and new allegations about foreign attacks against our nation’s infrastructure sow doubt and fear of what might happen next.

Market research indicates anxiety and uncertainty run rampant among consumers in just about every socioeconomic bracket.

A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 64 percent of Americans have personally experienced a major data breach. The study noted that relatively large shares of the public lack trust in institutions—especially the federal government and social media sites—to protect their personal information. The study also showed that roughly half of Americans (49 percent) feel their personal information is less secure than it was five years ago.

Hysteria surrounding cybersecurity gets even more complicated when one considers the Internet of Things (IoT)—a push to connect to the internet everyday items such as appliances, baby monitors, home security devices and thermostats (to name a few).

To put this into perspective, consider this: The number of IoT devices worldwide is expected to more than triple to 75 billion by 2025, from around 23 billion today.

That’s a lot of potentially unlocked doors for cybercriminals. And a lot to teach people about locking down data.

But there are a few basics that will go a long way toward educating digital consumers to minimize cyberthreats. Steckler offers some easy-to-follow ways for consumers and businesses to make their internet-connected worlds a safer place. Employers should make these practices part of their work culture, and device sellers should pitch in to raise customer awareness of them:

Passwords, passwords, passwords

Cybersecurity gurus say it like a mantra: Password management is the first step toward securing your data. This means more than just having good passwords (that is, passwords with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and other characters); it means avoiding common passwords and using different passwords for multiple accounts. Security experts recommend password management software as the safest and most secure way to track and maintain online passwords. Vendors such as Avast include this as part of their standard offerings. It’s a strategy that businesses should promote to all employees, and digital device makers should promote to all consumers.

Update, update, update

One of the easiest ways for cybercriminals to take advantage of computers and smartphones is to prey upon those devices that have not been updated with the latest cybersecurity measures. This means it’s critical for consumers and businesses alike to make sure they keep all security protocols current. Some cybersecurity vendors require users to perform these tasks manually. Others, like Avast, offer automatic updates with real-time information about the more dangerous threats of the day.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

In a world where news spreads quickly, objective and unbiased communication about cybersecurity threats and breaches will continue to be key. It’s natural to expect that consumers and businesses will turn to media outlets for details about malware, spyware, ransomware and viruses that might affect them. Security companies can extend and amplify these messages by communicating with customers directly through the software interface alerts or via email or text. Avast does both.

The bottom line: While cybersecurity threats can be scary and require vigilance, the public is not fighting these threats alone.

The best way cybersecurity companies can empower users to protect their data and use devices sensibly is to educate them on how to do so and provide them with the tools to help. This isn’t just good business, it’s good form, too. And in the end, society wins.

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