The past year was a banner year for cyber coverage in the press. Cyber security played a pivotal role in numerous domestic, foreign, and commercial affairs, such as the National Security Agency spying scandal, the Syrian civil war, and most recently, the Target data breach. Washington Post columnist Max Fisher marks 2013 as the year cyber security officially became a vital component of foreign policy. As a nation, we got our first real glimpses at the implications of our constant cyber connectivity—the ease with which different actors can peer into our cell phones, email accounts, and pocketbooks. The severity of our vulnerability as a nation is widely debated. (To hear experts weigh in, read this great introductory blog from Henry Farrell, professor at George Washington University.) Are we really on the brink of a cyber attack on the scale of Pearl Harbor, as many analysts warn? Perhaps. However, on the whole, we largely lack cyber literacy and security awareness, which puts us at great individual risk on a daily basis.
Due to cyber security’s widespread complexity, it is often challenging to grasp the potential gravity of a personal cyber breach (until it happens), let alone a widespread cyber attack. People take risks every day using smartphones, social media websites, online shopping, and public WiFi networks. How often do you hear someone mention that his Twitter was “hacked” or her Facebook is “getting spammed” from a link unknowingly clicked upon? Yes, the hacking of one person’s social media page is trivial compared to the millions of people affected by the Target data breach—but both events are clearly beginning to represent a new normal.
The past year’s media coverage bodes well for growing awareness. The best method for this incorporation is both talking about cyber security reforms and acting on them. The more people read in the newspaper, on blogs and social media, the more thought they give to cyber security and the likelier they are to converse about it with friends and family. Call it a cyber grassroots approach. The more commonplace the cyber security discussion, the more people are likely to take action to guard their personal data—even if it’s as simple as changing their passwords more frequently or limiting what kind of information they put on their Facebook or Twitter pages.
This growing cyber literacy compounds in our businesses and communities. Security investment decisions at both your corner store and your local Target aren’t made by cyber experts. But they are made by individuals whose growing cyber awareness means they’ll both be talking about cyber security reforms and acting on them.
When it comes to the incorporation of cyber security protection into our institutions, our businesses, and our daily lives, we are embarking on a “new frontier.” President John F. Kennedy referred to the “New Frontier” of the 1960s as “the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.” While the Internet has carried us into the 21st century with a multitude of technological benefits and conveniences, it too has brought with it the risks of unknown perils and unfilled threats. As we progress in the Information Age, it is vital that we remain vigilant in protecting ourselves on the vast new frontier of the cyber realm.
For more information on how better to protect yourself from cyber threats, visit the National Cyber Security Alliance website.