By Judith G. Garber
Each October, the United States commemorates Cybersecurity Awareness Month to help inform people, businesses, and international partners on ways to protect personal data and proprietary information. This year, Cybersecurity Awareness Month is more important than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic has led many of us to work from home, pushing more of our information and identities online. This accelerates a trend that started years ago with our lives and economies becoming increasingly dependent on digital communication. There are wide-reaching benefits to this transition – but it also carries risks. The threat from cyber criminals and malign actors also grows. Clearly, it is more important than ever that we all work together to improve cybersecurity.
I am happy to tell you that the Republic of Cyprus and the United States are developing a great partnership on this issue. Just last month Secretary of State Pompeo came here to sign a new agreement to build a training facility to improve regional cybersecurity, along with border, port, and maritime security. And earlier this week, the United States and Cyprus signed a memorandum of understanding on science and technology cooperation during the visit of Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. Cybersecurity also features in this proposed cooperation.
As Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digital Policy Kokkinos said, the Republic of Cyprus is “taking all necessary measures, policies and technological decisions so that our communications and digital infrastructure is secure and robust, for ensuring the smooth and accelerated deployment of our digital transformation as well as establishing our country as a strong regional player in the Science and Technology sphere.”
While there is a role for government, there are also many things that families and businesses must do to protect “digital identities.” Together, we all must work together to make a strong shield against cyber threats – and a shield is only as strong as its weakest point. With that in mind, I want to share ways to protect your privacy and information as part of our celebration of Cybersecurity Awareness Month.
Protect your family
Much like you have locks on your doors, you need locks on your digital information. These steps make your information hard to steal, but easy for you to access – and it only takes a few minutes to do.
- Make hard passwords. Rather than using a simple word or birthday, make it a sentence that is easy to remember, but long and difficult to guess. And NEVER make your password, “password” or “1234.”
- Update your devices. Computers, phones, and other smart devices need regular software updates to stay protected from attack. Having the most up-to-date security software, web browsers, operating systems and apps is the best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
- Only trust clean apps. Set parental controls to protect your children from downloading applications that needlessly access pictures, videos, and other information that has nothing to do with the applications’ purposes. As Secretary of State Pompeo warned in August, untrusted applications like TikTok and WeChat are significant threats to personal data privacy.
Protect your business
Businesses, universities, and other institutions are prime targets for criminals and malign groups. From customer data to intellectual property to specialised research, organisations must practice good cybersecurity to remain trusted with sensitive information.
- Back up data. Put in place a system – either in the cloud or via separate hard drive storage – that makes electronic copies of key information on a regular basis. This provides protection in case of data corruption, and also stores data in a long-term and secure environment.
- Insist on a clean cloud. Know where your data and technology are stored and who has access to both. Use only trusted companies governed by strong data protection rules to keep your customer information and intellectual property safe.
- Keep a clean machine. Your business or organisation should have clear rules for what employees can install and keep on their work computers.
Protect your economy
As Cyprus seeks to develop into a future hub for innovation, businesses and research centers will look for safe networks and policies that will protect their work. We are witnessing a wave of like-minded European nations that are making decisions on their next generation 5G mobile networks with these same considerations in mind. Businesses are watching these developments carefully as they decide where to invest and expand, knowing that all their information will travel over 5G. A secure 5G network will be the backbone of any country that seeks to be a leader in innovation. As Under Secretary of State Krach said during his visit to Cyprus, it’s all about trust.
- Clean infrastructure. Individuals and businesses must be supported by a reliable telecommunications system. Insist on trusted telecommunications vendors and suppliers that are governed by strong privacy laws, like those in the European Union.
- Data protection rights. To back up a strong infrastructure, strong laws and regulations must guarantee individual privacy as well as safeguard proprietary research and information. Companies must know that their research will belong to them and remain free from theft as they bring new innovations to market.
We are experiencing a revolution in the way people live, work, play, and interact. The universe of digital communication must be developed based on shared values such as transparency, accountability, protection of intellectual property, respect for the rule of law, and most of all, respect for human rights including both freedom of expression and protection of privacy.
By working together, a community of like-minded nations, acting on these common values, can build a better, more inclusive, more connected world.
Judith G. Garber is the Ambassador of the United States of America to Cyprus