Guard cyber experts offer computer security tips

ARLINGTON, Va. -- With online holiday shopping on the horizon, protecting home computers, tablets and smartphones from cyber attacks and threats take on additional importance, said National Guard cyber protection officials, but steps can be taken to minimize those risks.

Using a password on the Wi-Fi router is one of the easiest and most important things that can be done to prevent or deter hackings, said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Jones, the information awareness computer network defense chief at the Army National Guard Readiness Center.

Although most routers come with a default password, changing the router password to a more complex one can make it more difficult to be hacked, said Army Capt. Daniel Han, a cyber action officer at the Army Guard Readiness Center.

Even though lengthy passwords are suggested, sharing that password with others can make it ineffective when it comes to protecting your computer, Han said.

There are still other things that can be used to protect your computer when using the Internet.

"Many of these are basic, but as we utilize our systems we [often] become less and less security conscious," said Air Force Maj. Daniel Guy, commander of the Michigan Air National Guard's 110th Communications Flight in Battle Creek, Mich.

Those basic measures that Guy said go a long way in deterring cyber attacks include:

■Use virus protection software and keep it current
■Keep all applications, including your operating systems, up to date
■Don't open unknown email attachments
■Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use
■Make regular backups of critical data

Guard members must also use caution when working from remote locations.

"As the public and private sector continue to increase the utilization of teleworking ... the vulnerabilities will continue to increase," said Guy. "If it looks or feels weird, it probably is."

Teleworking can have its benefits but also needs to be done smartly. Guard members should take precautionary measures to prevent sensitive materials from getting in the wrong hands, said Han.

"The biggest concern when they telework is personally identifiable information," he said, adding that it is best practices to digitally sign or encrypt emails or messages.

Use of social media sites can bring additional personal threats to Guard members and their families and there are extra steps that can be taken to limit threats.

"Limiting private security settings along with not posting birthdays or phone numbers on social media can help mitigate potential attacks," said Han, noting that deactivating the GPS feature within social media sites and personal mobile devices and deferring from putting out real-time updates are a few more ways to protect against attacks.

"Do not sync with other social media applications installed on your phone," he said, adding that is one of the best ways to mitigate any risks.

Perhaps the best defense against cyber attacks is simply education.

"The best way to defend home environments from attacks is to stay educated on what is out there," said Jones. "Most malicious activity starts with unaware user interaction."

If a targeted cyber attack is suspected, there are options and help available.

"If you happen to be at work, contact your information technology support staff," Guy saod. "If this happens to be at home, many local and state law enforcement agencies offer a cyber security division that may be able to assist."

Contacting the Internet service provider is another option.

"Chances are if you are getting attacked, they can see it," said Jones.

Even with all the protective measures in place to diminish cyber threats, it is necessary to recognize that not all threats can be stopped, said Guy.

"It is important to realize that we can't protect ourselves from every vulnerability," he said. "Much like the human body, if you practice good preventative maintenance, you are more likely to have fewer health problems."