Cyber Security Awareness

Greetings!

As you hear in the media almost daily, security hackers are winning the day with malware attacks, data breaches, and phishing hacks, to name a few. It is important to understand the new level of danger that exists in our digitally connected world. Long gone are the days of the simple passwords and wide open networks.

While the corporate world is prepared, in our church world, the playing field is not level and we have limited resources, especially surrounding technology. However, there are several things you can do, at a minimum, to greatly reduce your chances of getting hacked, hijacked, or ransomed.  

If you’ve never heard of ransomware, or crypto-locker, or malware for that matter, google those terms. Reading below, you will find a list of actions you can take with linked resources. Sure, you may have seen these before, but they are truly worth serious consideration in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Things you can do:

Your Computer – Turn on your firewall, turn off network and file sharing. This will help isolate your computer on a network. Always install security patches and updates; they actually help. Protect physical access to your computer. If multiple users have to use it, set up individual user accounts for each with strong passwords. If you have a laptop, lock it up when not in use. That may sound drastic, but we exist in the real world, and laptops are known to “grow legs,” even in church.

Antivirus Software – Install antivirus software on your machine. There are free options and there are options that cost money. Installing a free version is a start, but in my opinion and those of security analysts, the paid versions are much more comprehensive and work well to protect you. It is a small cost for the worthwhile investment of protecting your files, media, and information. Read more here.

Passwords – I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Simple (weak) passwords really don’t cut it anymore. Make your password strong and complex. Many folks have started using sentences as complex passwords. Used mixed case, special characters, and numbers. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Don’t share your password, and don’t write it down anywhere. For those who are going to write it down anyway, store that document under lock and key; burglars know where to look. And set yourself a calendar reminder to change your password frequently. Read more here.

Backup and Recovery – You should be backing up the critical data on your computer, and have a plan in mind for what you would do if your computer should become compromised and unusable. Take the backup offsite, and make multiple backups if possible. Read more here.

Network – If you offer public wi-fi access at your ministry location, make every effort to segregate that network from your work computer network. Always be aware that wireless networks at places of business like Starbucks, McDonald’s, and airports are not secure – use them with caution.

Physical Security – As I mentioned earlier, do all you can to limit physical access to your computer.  Lock the door where the computer lives. Lock the door where the network router and server(s) live. If your computer has to live where the public can gain access to it, set a screen saver password, or even a bios password, and turn it off when not in use. Read more here.

Email – Phishing scams are so pervasive in today’s world. If you are not familiar with the term, please look it up. Emails that contain links are dangerous. Attackers have mastered the art of sending emails that look just like something you would receive from your bank or healthcare provider. They are “phishing” for your personal data. Use extreme caution when clicking links in emails. Never enter your login and password for your account into what looks like a legitimate login page that you got to from a link. Think, and if possible, call, before you click. Read more here.

The use of technology in our ministries is a given these days. I encourage you to spend a little time educating yourself to become aware of the threats around you. The popular phrase to remember nowadays is “Security Awareness.” Do everything in your power to protect your digital identity. We are the guardians of our own, and sometimes others’, personal and private information in our day-to-day work world. It is imperative that we take at least the minimum steps necessary to safeguard it and ourselves at all times possible.  To read more about the National Cyber Security Alliance, go here.

Be vigilant,

Mark Epperson

Center for Technology

Arkansas Conference UMC

 

 

Note: Mark Epperson serves as the Director of the Center for Technology for the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached at me@arumc.org. Only you can defend yourself from security vulnerabilities; resources cited and/or linked are intended for educational purposes and are not an attempt to promote products or services for monetary gain or benefit.