Cybersecurity threats are real, but you can take many steps to help protect your own information. October is designated as Cybersecurity Awareness Month and offers excellent resources to help you take steps to make it tougher for anyone to gain your information.

Whether it’s keeping patient information private at work or keeping your own personal information away from strangers, you do have control over some of the most common threats. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has an excellent toolkit that gives tips and directions to help assess your risk and take actions to reduce it.

Here are a few simple ways to get started.

Passwords Offer Entry

Passwords are one of the easiest ways to add a line of defense to your information and accounts. Choosing a strong password means that you aren’t using your name or a sequential string of numbers and that you include variations on capital and lowercase letters and some symbols. Don’t have one password that you use for everything because if someone gets that one password, all your information is now vulnerable. And don’t keep the same password; changing it up makes it more difficult to get. Protect your passwords fiercely and don’t share them. If you have a family password for something like a streaming account, make sure that’s not the same password as what you use for your other accounts.

Be Cautious and Slow Down

Phishing is much more complex than it used to be, so be extra careful about any texts, emails, or phone calls. Texts or emails that say your account has been frozen or that ask for information from you to clear up a problem should be scrutinized. Never click on any link or attachment in a message until you are completely certain it is legitimate. One easy way to do that are to check the return email address; if it is from your bank, it should have your bank’s email (and really look at the spelling–even one extra letter or missing letter makes a difference). If you’re confused by the request, don’t click on links to see if it helps you find answers. Call the source by finding the number on your own; don’t use any phone number provided in a suspicious email or text. Your bank, credit card provider, health care office, or virtually any account holder will tell you if they requested information or if the problem is real.

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Use Software as a Line of Defense

Make sure your devices are protected by up-to-date anti-viral software. And if you’re using a work device, get in touch with your IT department to follow all the proper steps and precautions they recommend for security out of the office. Don’t log into an open Wi-Fi account in a coffee shop or airport, for example, as that provides easy access for someone to get into your systems. And check all the app permissions on your phone to ensure the greatest privacy and security possible. Many apps track your location and your search history or even want permission to access your microphone and camera. You can control who sees what, so do an app assessment frequently to keep what you share to a minimum.

Make It Difficult

When you get a credit card application or a letter about applying for life insurance in the mail or even bring home receipts from shopping, don’t recycle that paper. It makes it too simple for people to snag your information and take over your identity. Shred or burn anything with your identifying information that can be used to capture your identity–and also take care to treat QR codes or offer numbers on applications the same way. This simple step keeps all that information in your control.

Consider Nursing Informatics

The nursing informatics field is wide, and if you’re intrigued by cybersecurity, there’s a need for your skills. Nursing informaticists are essential to the safety of healthcare organizations. They are needed to develop cybersecurity curriculum as educators, provide direction and guidance for their organizations, offer routine education to the healthcare workforce about cybersecurity, and advocate for security in the industry.

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This week, get started on your personal cybersecurity assessment by seeing if your passwords are strong enough and making sure your protective software is current. After that, continue to be vigilant about your information to keep it out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have it.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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