We pay taxes to fund the local Police who help insure our physical safety and keep the peace. It would be great if there were an online equivalent to the local police, someone that you could count on to catch the bad guys. The distributed nature of the internet would require much more international cooperation than there is today in order to really take a bite out of internet crime. However, there is actually an organization, funded by your tax dollars, that is chartered with improving cyber security and creating a safer online experience. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team or
US-CERT is styled after the original CERT Coordination Center (http://www.cert.org/CERT/CC) created by Carnegie Mellon University. US-CERT, located in Washington DC, is part of the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS and the CERT/CC work jointly to coordinate and respond to cyber attacks with the intent of making our online experience safer.
Our local police remind us to take protective measures and use common sense to protect our physical security, such as; locking doors, trimming hedges that might provide cover for thieves, and asking neighbors to collect your mail and watch your house when you will be away. The US-CERT also makes recommendations to keep home computer users safe but, at the end of the day, the burden of protecting your identity and internet transactions rests with you.
One key item from the list is to make sure that you remain up to date with software patches or updates. This seems obvious to most of us but, many people are wary of the automatic update process for their operating system, Java, Adobe, or other software that is running on the home computer. Leaving the auto update process ‘on’ is the only way to stay ahead of the ever changing landscape of threats to your computing safety. The threat of acquiring malware via the auto update process is much less as compared to not getting the patches which contain the latest security fixes.
The following basic steps are listed on the CERT/CC website for the home computer user and can help prevent most known cyber threats;
1. Consult your system support personnel if you work from home
2. Use virus protection software
3. Use a firewall
4. Don’t open unknown email attachments
5. Don’t run programs of unknown origin
6. Disable hidden filename extensions
7. Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched
8. Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use
10. Disable scripting features in email programs
11. Make regular backups of critical data
12. Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised