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Live Wisely - October 28, 2021

Don’t Become Phish Bait! It’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month

By Kathie Miller

Lately, I’ve been binge watching The Americans. Set in the 1980s, toward the end of the Cold War, the show features Russian spies and FBI agents. The drama and intrigue, at least the type that involves espionage, is centered around technology. The two sides are in a battle to stay ahead in the nuclear arms race. Yet that’s not the technology that gets my attention.

What stands out to me is the technology used in their daily lives. House phones are tethered to the wall, their mobility limited to the length of their curly cords. TVs are small, boxy and feature big knobs. VCRs are just becoming a standard part of home entertainment. And everyone uses payphones. When is the last time you even noticed a payphone, let alone used one?

Rapid Tech Growth

Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 40 years. Today, it is so pervasive that we might be hard pressed to find any aspects of our lives that are untouched by technology. From smart phones to smart homes, new tech is released every day.

Also notable is how quickly consumers adopt technology. Many of us keep tabs on the latest releases of gadgets or innovations. Our smart devices update regularly to keep up with software changes. Whether or not we make full use of them, we all benefit from advancements in technology. Just think about how much we all came to rely on it during the pandemic.

Of course, loving technology isn’t always easy. Some of it can be complicated and a challenge to adopt. While some of us might feel nostalgic about popping out to our local video store to rent the latest releases, I think most of us can agree that streaming whatever content we want based on our mood is much easier, not to mention more satisfying.

Security in Our Digital Age

As we live with all the modern conveniences afforded us by technology, we can easily lose sight of one key element involved—cybersecurity. With our nearly every move tracked digitally, the amount of personal data gathered about us can be cause for concern. With our increased use of technology, we can open ourselves to more risk.

The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) reported that during 2020, in the U.S. alone, cybercrimes against adults aged 60 and over resulted in approximately $1 billion in losses — a 30% increase over the losses reported in the previous year.

This is why it’s important for all of us to stay vigilant about taking steps to protect ourselves. It’s also why the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCSA) collaborated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to launch Cybersecurity Awareness Month in 2004.

Every October, NCSA and others encourage private, public and government organizations to engage in efforts to raise awareness of cybersecurity and what each of us can do – both individually and collectively – so that we continue to enjoy technology while keeping ourselves and each other safe.

Our First Line of Protection

Protecting our information is a shared responsibility, one that isn’t limited to one month of the year. At Goodwin House Inc (GHI), we make significant investments in technology that both supports the work we do and offers the utmost security. Staff are required to engage in ongoing training. Our Information Technology (IT) Department also sends staff regular emails that test our skills and encourage us to stay on top of our security awareness training.

“We are firmly committed to best practices in cybersecurity,” said David Fowler, GHI Director of IT. “Technology that ensures our systems stay secure is key, though staff are our greatest safeguards against cybersecurity threats.”

One of the most important and frequently used technologies today is also one that can make us the most vulnerable—email. A 2019 study reported that American workers can spend on average nearly six hours a day checking email. While this number combines time spent on work and personal email, it is still astounding to consider.

Given that email is so commonly used, that is an excellent focus for our cybersecurity efforts.

Learn to Spot a Phish

If you are unfamiliar with the word phishing, it is the term given to the practice of sending fraudulent emails (or texts) that appear legitimate in order to get you to share your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission offers extensive resources regarding phishing, what it is, how to recognize it, how to protect yourself from it and how to report and respond to it. The National Council on Aging shares common phishing scams that target older adults.

Increased use of technology can lead to an increased threat to our cybersecurity. A good reminder of this came earlier this year, when the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) released its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2020 Internet Crime Report.

Reports to the IC3 were up 69.4%, according to the report. Phishing was among the top three crimes reported.

Don’t Take the Bait

Victor Otusanya is the Senior Resident Technology Specialist for Goodwin House Inc. He works with residents of Goodwin House Life Plan Communities, helping them with their IT needs – everything from setting up their smart TVs to addressing their cybersecurity concerns.

“Scams can be hard to spot,” Victor shared. “I like to remind people to look for these top three things to help identify fraudulent email.”

  • The sender’s email address is not affiliated with the organization they represent. If someone says they’re reaching out from Apple, their email address should be ######@apple.com.
  • The email will contain misspelled words and/or bad grammar.
  • The message depicts a sense of urgency and wants you to act as soon as possible.

Read your messages very closely before clicking on links or hitting the reply button. Whenever you spot any of these three things in an email, don’t take the bait. Even if you have the slightest doubt, trust your instincts, and delete the message.

Be the Hero

The Americans has offered me a great source of entertainment, not just from watching the show but from thinking about the technology of my childhood compared to the technology we all enjoy today. I wonder if the show would be as entertaining if it were about protecting the world from phishing scams. Maybe not, but such a show would feature each of us as its hero! Remember we can all do our part to make the world more cybersecure.

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As Corporate Director of Marketing & Communications, Kathie Miller provides strategic guidance and tactical support for all areas of Goodwin House. She writes, edits and manages The Good Life blog and newsletter. Kathie joined GHI in 2014 after nearly 15 years at NPR, where she honed her skills in brand and reputation management, content marketing and internal communications. Originally from Pennsylvania, Kathie has slowly come to realize she’s lived in Arlington for more than half her life and should call herself a Virginian. She enjoys the outdoors and brings her rescue dog, Remi, to work every day.

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