Responsibility for online safety stressed

When most people think of October, certain traditions immediately spring to mind, but there’s one particular topic students might have omitted from their calendars: online security.

This October marks the ninth annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month. During this month the Department of Homeland Security aims to educate the public on ways to stay safe in an ever-growing, interconnected world.

OCCC Cyber Security professor Al Heitkamper, said he wants to be part of the solution. He said he sees online safety as a shared responsibility.


“Emerging cyber threats require engagement from the entire American community,” Heitkamper said.

Each week in October will highlight a different, fundamental aspect of online safety, including law enforcement and industry efforts in cyber security, among others.

But what does this mean for college students and staff? What can they do, right now, to stay safe in the cyber realm?

“Get a watch,” said Heitkamper, who teaches courses in cyber security on campus.

Every time you take out your phone to check the time, Heitkamper said, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to theft.

Before you shrug off the suggestion with a “what are the odds of that” mentality, just imagine for a second that someone did happen to run by and take your phone.

Do you have a pass lock on it? Is your Facebook account one thumb-tap away? What about your bank accounts? Online stores, personal notes, contacts, photos?

Everything people use to connect with those they love can just as easily be turned against them, Heitkamper said.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, Heitkamper said. There are plenty of other ways people can protect themselves, and most of them are based on common sense.

Don’t open an email from someone you don’t know. See? Common sense at its finest.

But there’s something else to consider. When you’re sending an email, whether it’s to a friend, coworker or professor, always include something in the subject line, so the recipient knows what’s inside.

As for those with smart phones, remember they’re computers. Just because it’s easy to forget that doesn’t change the fact that a smart phone is essentially a handheld computer.

Like all computers, smart phones can get viruses, and Heitkamper suggests downloading some kind of anti-virus app. Norton and Kaspersky, arguably the two giants of anti-virus software, both have mobile security options available.

These are but a few of the many ways people can protect themselves online. To learn more, visit ncsam or

Changing leaves and cooler weather. Haunted houses. Trick-or-treating. Another “Paranormal Activity.” These are things people already associate with the month of October.

But since students walk around with their entire lives in their pockets, it couldn’t hurt to recognize the need to protect it. What better time than during National Cyber Security Awareness Month?

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