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Cybersecurity awareness: Staring down 'social engineering' by hackers

cybersecurity concept, internet security, screen with padlock
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cybersecurity concept, internet security, screen with padlock

In a digital world, employers often require some form of cybersecurity training. A local government official in Wisconsin is encouraging people not to let the helpful tips fade from their memories.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and federal officials say nearly 50% of American adults have had their personal information exposed by cyber criminals. But Tim Lemmers, information-technology manager for the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield, said a lot of the threats that reach individuals don't come from system hacks, but rather from social engineering.

"People who are trying to hack your environments, they're getting your information, they're looking up you, looking up the street you lived on, your first pet's name," he said. "And they're trying to use that kind of information to target you specifically, to get you to click on a thing - where they can steal your information and then pose as you."

He said a key prevention tool is paying close attention to your emails, to spot someone sending a message that looks official but contains a harmful link. Grammatical errors in messages are red flags. And by placing the computer mouse over the link without clicking on it, you can see where the message actually is coming from.

Lemmers said all it takes is one bad click to send an IT department scrambling. He noted that everyone has some personal information somewhere on the internet, and it's impossible to scrub it all. Another important shield is password maintenance.

"Make sure you change them regularly," he said. "And by regularly, depending on how important the website is - you know, if it's your Netflix account, maybe every six months, maybe once a year. If it's your banking information, maybe change that a little more often."

If you're going to use words, he said long phrases of interconnected words can make a difference. A mix of upper-case and lower-case letters, along with special characters, can also make passwords stronger. Federal data also show that 600,000 Facebook accounts are hacked each day.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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