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Cybersecurity ELI5 (“Explain it like I’m 5”)

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By: Cybrary Staff

January 12, 2023

Cybersecurity in its most basic form is the protection of our digital assets. Most of us interact with technology nearly every moment of the day and cybersecurity is the key to helping minimize the risk of losing our assets to those interested in taking them away from us.

Imagine waking up and discovering your text messages have been shared publicly online; or everything you’ve searched for in your browser has been shared with your friends, colleagues or parents; or the files, photos or whatever else you store on your computer has been published publicly online; or all your money in your bank account disappeared; or those webcams or cameras you’ve installed in and around your house have random people also seeing through those. These are all some of the “worst-case scenarios” when it comes to cybersecurity. And while those are all very real things that have and can happen, cybersecurity both at the individual level and the corporate level act to prevent those things from happening.

Every one of us is accountable for our own digital security. Career cybersecurity professionals help at a whole different level. So what does a cybersecurity professional actually do? In a future post, we’ll break it down, but we’ll summarize it broadly, “they use a special set of computer skills to ensure our digital information is kept safe from those who should not have access to it or are looking to do harm.

It’s a bit of a misnomer to think any 2 cybersecurity professionals are alike, or do the same thing. An analogy to help understand would be that of a “doctor”. All doctors receive a common education path before diverging into various specialities. By understanding the foundations, they are able to build on that, continuing their education to new areas of interest. It’s a lifelong pursuit of learning and becoming better and better in their craft. Especially, as the world is constantly changing and evolving. There are many doctors who become general practitioners, some pursue advanced training in a specific area and become specialists, some become administrators, some are researchers, some handle policy/legal, etc. Cybersecurity professionals and cybersecurity teams are quite similar. Though, there’s one major difference to call out. The costs involved in each. The median medical school debt was $200,000 in 2022. In cybersecurity, there have become many options available to build the knowledge, skills and abilities you need for free. Sure, there are costs associated with things like if you choose to pursue an industry certification; or, later career specialist training. Cybrary was built on the belief we need to prepare and equip the current and next generation of cybersecurity professionals with the skills to defend against cyber threats. This can’t be done with prohibitively high barriers to entry.

Whether or not you decide to continue on down a potential career in cybersecurity, continue on and read some basic personal security hygiene to protect you and your family from common threats you face on a daily basis:

Phishing: Learn how to identify a link that looks “phishy” and think twice before clicking on a questionable looking (and sometimes even normal looking) link. Attackers are looking to steal your information and use it for malicious purposes. Know those weird looking links in text messages or emails? 99% chance those are bad actors who have gotten hold of your phone number. Know those totally normal looking emails urging you to check on the status of something or to update something? That might be a 50/50 chance that those are bad actors who have gotten hold of your email. If something is really that critical, navigate to the app or website and it will (should) let you know you have something important to address.

Software Updates: If you don’t already have automatic updates turned on, it is highly recommended to do so. Updates ensure your digital product (phone, computer, tablet, etc) always has the latest security patches to block bad actors from taking advantage of flaws in the software you use on a daily basis. Whether it’s your browser, phone, or smartTV, you have been prompted to update your software (or you have a youngster in your life asking if you have updated yet). It’s simply good practice. Unless you’re an extreme technophile, if you have a good reason not to update your software regularly, reach out to us on Twitter @cybraryIT and we’d love to hear what it is!

Strong Password: Many people don’t take password health seriously because they can be “hard to remember”. Even worse, people will reuse those same passwords across multiple sites. We all are guilty of this in some form or fashion. Sophisticated cybersecurity professionals know how to take advantage of this; and, once they have figured out your password to one website, they can begin accessing all of the websites you have used that password on. What’s more, if you have used that password for things like your Google Drive or iCloud accounts, they’ll have access to all your pictures, files (or crypto keys if you’re into that sort of thing). While it may seem “annoying” or “unnecessary” learning how to set up and properly use/manage a password manager is highly recommended.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication: If you use a website or application that offers the ability to turn on multi-factor authentication (commonly referred to as MFA), it is highly recommended to do so. MFA provides an easy, approachable way to reduce the likelihood of “getting hacked”. Should someone gain access to your account, MFA can provide an extra layer of security.

Cybersecurity is an incredibly neat and growing field. If you’re interested in taking your first step, we hope this guide will be an invaluable resource in your journey. If not, keep some of those worst-case scenarios in the back of your mind, follow best practices and share this with someone you think would benefit from learning a little bit more.

What are some other creative ways you’ve described cybersecurity ELI5? Give us a shout on Twitter @cybraryIT

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