From New York to California, state and local governments are taking steps to educate citizens on the plethora of dangers in the online world. This is the third annual National Cyber Security Month which was started by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) with the mission to "stay safe online."

Many dangers await online, from children being exposed to inappropriate content or being solicited over instant messaging, to identity thieves using, rootkits, worms or malware. People must be extremely careful when entering personal information on even familiar Web sites because they could be phishing sites.

But the question remains: is one month enough to educate the public? Some have questioned the government's actions calling this nothing more than a reason to spend more tax money. But with any cause it is only through consistence and persistence that anything can be accomplished. And although federal and state governments are involved, much of the effort to educate people is coming from grassroots endeavors. Take for example The Guardian Angels working in the schools of New York State to educate both parents and children about Internet safety. The group is partnering with the New York State Office of Cyber Security & Critical Infrastructure to create a "Strike Force on Cyber Safety." Change needs to be a collaborative effort, not just a governmental one.

But the government is doing its part. Different plans have been enacted, steps taken, departments created. News coverage of the various initiatives has been wide, bringing to light the diversity of efforts. Many attorneys general have released consumer alerts about phishing and other Internet scams, such as Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. New York Governor George Pataki signed a proclamation earlier this month recognizing October as Cyber Security Awareness Month. In Illinois, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich created an Internet Crimes Unit to be dedicated solely to combating online crime such as identity theft.

Many different organizations and groups, including NASCIO and the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, have spoken up in favor of promoting cyber security. Forty-two attorneys general signed a declaration in support of the goals and ideas being promoted during Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Colleen Pedroza, state information security officer in the California State Office of Technology Review, Oversight, and Security, explained that her office has released Internet safety video clips, as well as pamphlets and a newsletter on Internet safety. Much of this information will be passed on to various California counties. "We are excited about this month being National Cyber Security Month," Pedroza said.

California also held a Cyber Security Summit which focused on keeping children safe online. Governor Schwarzenegger, in his address at the summit called for the building of "stronger partnerships between governments and between the private and public sectors, between law enforcement and everyone, to fight cyber crime."

Online safety is more that just watching who children are chatting with, or keeping Social Security Numbers close to the vest. It is about becoming aware of online actions, trends and habits. It is about common sense and it is a collaborative effort. Taking a month to increase awareness will only be successful if people remember all the tips and guidelines, and, more importantly, practice them.

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer