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Data Privacy Day: Seattle Posts Series of Blogs with Privacy Tips for Citizens

Seattle’s chief privacy officer covers universal rules, prevention tips and other best practices residents should know to keep personal info safe online.

In honor of Data Privacy Day this month, Seattle Chief Privacy Officer Ginger Armbruster has written a series of blogs with tips aimed at helping citizens to stay safe online.

Data Privacy Day was Sunday, Jan. 28, and for the occasion Armbruster wrote an introduction to the concept of Data Privacy Day , as well as a pair of blogs with specific advice for citizens — one with tips regarding their personal privacy and another with tips on how they can help be safe in the online space overall. In discussing the day as well as her blogs, Armbruster told Government Technology that evolving threats have made this topic more relevant than ever.

“Things like phishing attacks have gotten super, super sophisticated,” she said. “They usually make it compelling that if you don’t click this link and do what they say, then your world is going to come crashing down.”

Phishing attacks, which hack systems by manipulating victims into providing passwords or other information, were just one variety of cyberattacks to make major headlines throughout 2017, a year in which new breaches were reported with increasing regularity. While these sorts of attacks do have the potential to disrupt and harm local and state government, one of the largest threats they pose is to private businesses and individual citizens.

Armbruster noted there’s no shame in getting caught by a phishing attack, and that her own mother-in-law had fallen prey to one. The blogs she wrote for Data Privacy Day, however, are rich with information to prevent others from suffering the same fate.

“Mostly it’s about being aware of the information you make available and being thoughtful about it,” Armbruster said.

With phishing attacks, defense is as simple as never offering your passwords or credit card information to websites whose legitimacy is in any way a question, even a little bit. Seattle’s blogs go on to address other privacy and data breach concerns as well.

They include a wide range of tips. Some are of the more practical variety — don’t let everyone on social media know when you’re going to be away on vacation, as you could open your home up to burglary — as well as advice that is more complex, such as why you should diligently change your passwords every 60 to 90 days, check the privacy settings on all of your social media channels and keep your devices’ operating systems and their software up-to-date. That last item is especially important, with Armbruster writing in her blog that “software updates typically contain fixes for security vulnerabilities, so it is important to keep any software applications that you run up-to-date at all times in order to reduce your risk of being vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

This blogging effort is just one of a growing series of proactive initiatives local and state governments have created to help constituents stay safe in the face of online threats. Los Angeles has launched a cybersecurity lab to be a city-based resource for doling out the info and intelligence that the local government relies on every day to prevent attacks against its own network. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order last year to establish his city’s first Cyber Command, which is a unit that will set information security and policy standards while also responding to cyberincidents.

Seattle, for its part, has long been a leader in cybersecurity and privacy protections, especially as it pertains to information that censors and other smart city initiatives collect. This series of blogs for Data Privacy Day is just a part of the city’s way of sharing its expertise on the matter with residents. 

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine
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