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National Cybersecurity Awareness Month Begins During Year of Major Breaches

Increased public concern has raised interest in the month-long slate of events meant to promote the importance of safeguarding digital information.

October marks the beginning of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is likely to draw increased attention this year in the wake of the Equifax breach and other recent high-profile hacking incidents.

Started in 2004, National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a collaboration between government —the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — and private industry — the National Cyber Security Alliance, as well as other partners. Simply put, the month is an annual campaign to raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding digital information.

Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, said that while increased attention to this matter has been building for some time, the nature of information compromised during the Equifax breach has made it resonate personally. In September, news broke that Equifax had lost data belonging to as many as 143 million customers, including social security numbers, home addresses, mortgage loans and more.

“This feels a lot more personal,” Kaiser said, “and that does raise awareness. It does get people paying more attention to the issue.”

Equifax is far from the only major cybersecurity incident of 2017. In May, a worldwide ransomware attack known as WannaCry infected more than 300,000 computers in roughly 150 countries. While WannaCry was quickly stemmed by a cybersecurity professional in England who found a kill switch, the scale of its reach stands as a stark lesson for businesses and public agencies across the globe. Kaiser said such incidents are a reminder of the importance of cybersecurity education and awareness, a pair of concepts that are at the heart of the month.

Organizers are also encouraging local and state jurisdictions across the country to get involved, either by spreading the word about national events or hosting their own localized versions. Kaiser said there are hundreds of such events taking place around the country, as public agencies and private companies alike begin to realize the detrimental impact that widescale cyberattacks can have on state and city economies.

“We really encourage government partners to be our boots on the ground,” Kaiser said. “They are trusted sources of information on these topics. Our model for cybersecurity awareness month is really a grassroots model: it’s getting companies, nonprofits, state and local government to actually conduct activities.”

That said, the principal organizers are still hosting official events tied to the month in the Washington D.C. area. A full list can be found here, and many of the happenings feature an online component or a live stream.

While it’s too soon to tell if the increased media attention on cybersecurity will definitively draw increased participation, early indications are that it will. Boston Logan Airport, for example, got an early start Oct. 2, tweeting about the dangers of sharing photos of your boarding pass on Facebook or Instagram.

“That’s exactly what has to happen,” Kaiser said of the tweet. “This month needs to become a culturally important milestone in the year.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.