As We Close Digital Divide, Mind the Cybersecurity Gap

(BPT) - When the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it, access to the internet became a necessity for work, school, health care and everyday life. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 90% of Americans say the internet has been essential or important to them personally during the coronavirus outbreak.

As a result, governments and companies stepped up their efforts to bring reliable, affordable internet access to homes. The Emergency Broadband Benefit was introduced in December 2020 offering low-income households discounted broadband service and devices. Broadband companies like Comcast have prioritized digital equity in the past 10 years by bringing 10 million people online. Last month the company launched a comprehensive digital equity initiative, Project UP backed by a $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people in the next 10 years. And as internet adoption and access among consumers increases, so must cyber safety.

Each new user connected to the internet is a potential target for cybercriminals. This makes vigilance online an even greater priority as progress is made toward closing the digital divide. October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a good time to focus on how to be cyber savvy and secure the technology people use every day. With the Biden administration designating this year's theme - 'Do Your Part. Be Cyber Smart.' - Comcast offers tips that digital consumers at every age and stage can use to keep their private information secure.

Secure Your Home Network

Talk to neighbors to learn what internet service provider (ISP) works best for them and do research on reliability, speed and security. A quality ISP will offer customer support for setting up a home network along with the following recommendations.

  • Set a strong username for your WiFi home network and any device that connects to it. Do not keep your network or devices on the default settings and avoid using identifiable passwords like your name or address.
  • Take advantage of an ISP's security features if renting gateway equipment. Comcast's Xfinity xFi gateway offers Advance Security for an additional layer of protection to your home network. These internet security features go a long way in locking the windows and doors in the virtual neighborhood.
  • Use the highest level of WiFi encryption, WPA3, if using a personal router. Search for 'Security Settings' or 'WPA3 Encryption' along with the router model number to get started. It takes a few extra steps but is one of the most important ways to keep a home network secure.

Protect Every Mobile Device

Smartphones are like handheld computers that go everywhere. Like computers, today's cellphones hold a lot of personal and financial information that can be valuable to cybercriminals.

  • Enable auto-lock on every mobile device for added protection if lost or stolen.
  • Research apps before downloading to avoid risk. Avoid risky apps by only downloading from official app stores. Deny unnecessary requests to access the phone's data, camera, microphone, contacts or locations.
  • Update apps and operating systems (OS) to ensure devices have the latest security patches that protect against new and emerging cyber threats. Enable each device with 'Auto Update' to establish constant protection.
  • Be WiFi wise. When using public WiFi, limit activities as much as possible and avoid shopping online or accessing bank accounts. Disable WiFi 'Auto-Connect' on smartphones to remain in control of networks accessed by the device. When not using Bluetooth for access to earphones or other sources, toggle it off.

Share Best Practices

When hackers succeed, it's often because they targeted unsuspecting users. Threats evolve over time, so make it a regular practice to remind family members of good online hygiene and how to avoid risky behaviors.

  • Think, then click links. Phishing emails and texts are a favorite of cybercriminals. Designed to lure people in, they look authentic and are usually disguised as coming from a trusted person or company. It is reported that 50 percent of people who open phishing emails also click on the links, allowing illegal access to private data.
  • Be social media security savvy. Use security and privacy settings and check them regularly. Share information only with people you know. Don't overshare by posting personal, sensitive or confidential information. Be sure to keep birthdate, current address or location private - including not posting vacation pictures while away from home.
  • Enable multifactor authentication (MFA) especially for sensitive things like online banking, email or social media. MFA helps the website being visited know that the individual accessing the site is authentic. This can be done by asking users for additional identity verification, such as scanning a fingerprint or entering a code received by phone.
  • Shop securely. When shopping online, submit payment information only on websites starting with https:// (the "s" stands for 'secure'). When shopping on a mobile device, use only trusted apps.

From working at home and studying remotely, to streaming the latest Hollywood blockbuster, connected homes and devices are changing the way we live, work and play. The 2020 Xfinity Cyber Health Report offers additional security tips for keeping cyber criminals at bay while living in today's ever-connected digital world.

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