Online safety

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael McFeeters
  • 21st Communications Squadron
As we near the beginning of another school year, one thing’s for sure: students, parents, and teachers will all be more connected than ever before. With the prevalence of smart laptops, tablets, phones, watches etc., seemingly everything today is connected to the internet in one way or another. Technology has revolutionized our access to information and has made our lives better in many ways. However, being “Wired Up, Fired Up!” 24/7 does bring with it some vulnerabilities too. Here are some basic cybersecurity tips that Airmen and their families can apply to safeguard themselves against some of the dangers of cyberspace:

1. Software updates – the most fundamental thing you can do to insulate yourself from cyber threats is to update the software on all your devices regularly. This goes for desktop/laptop computers, phones, tablets, apps, and even your vehicles. Most devices offer some form of auto-update which is the best way to stay current. This will also ensure the latest patches and security fixes have been applied to your device(s).

2. Firewalls – use them to prevent unauthorized access to your devices at home. With all the mobile devices out there and now the addition of “smart” security systems and appliances, hackers have more targets than ever before to gain access to you and your family. Do some research (I use “” most often) on current products and their pro’s/con’s. Once you select and purchase a device, read the manual! This will prevent you from setting it up incorrectly and giving the bad guys easy access to all your devices.

3. Passwords – try to use strong, unique, and complex passwords that are different for each account. Encourage your kids to do the same for any accounts they may have individually (think Social Media). If you need to write down all your passwords and/or accounts, keep the list locked up so it’s not easily accessible to others. Change your passwords at least twice per year.

4. Social Media – be careful which photos and videos you choose to post online. Keep in mind that photos taken with phones have specific data included within them about where they were taken and when. Additionally, not EVERYONE online is your “friend.” Be discreet about who you accept into your inner circles. Lastly, do NOT respond to mean or threatening messages from cyber bullies. If your kids receive them, make sure the school and/or respective teachers are made aware. Delete the account if it keeps happening.

5. Online ads/shopping – phishing attacks are on the rise and one of the most common methods that bad actors use to collect personal information. Be cautious of phony/spam emails, messages claiming you’ve won something “free,” ads directing you to other websites, etc. These can all be methods that criminals use to steal your data or worse, your identity. If you’re shopping or banking online, ensure the address starts with, “https://” and there’s a padlock displayed proving that the site is secure as possible. You can also use tools such as “SiteAdvisor” to confirm your visiting legitimate websites and not fake versions of them.

In closing, be cautious what you and/or your kids do in cyberspace. There’s no doubt that technology is cool and it enables us to do more every day. At the same time, cyber threats often evolve faster than our safeguards do. Be smart in your surfing habits, use security software (such as anti-virus), backup important data (either to DVDs, CDs, or the Cloud), be careful what personal information you put out there, and think before you click. You, not technology, are the greatest defense against the dangers of cyberspace.