Swamped by Cyberthreats, Citizens Need Government Protection

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January 21, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: January 21 on

Most people can’t keep up with the latest in technology, which puts them at risk as cybercriminals exploit human and technical weaknesses.

For example, William and Nancy Skog hoped to retire to a beautiful new home. Then a fraudster fooled them into transferring US$307,000 to his bank account. Their entire life savings disappeared in the blink of an eye.

This is not an isolated incident – it happens all the time across the globe, and attacks are increasing. Older computer users are particularly vulnerable.

Public officials around the world – and in the U.S. – are beginning to understand that their cybersecurity efforts need to do more than defend businesses and government agencies. Citizens’ personal cybersecurity is a key element of national security.

Governments have long addressed physical security through public safety services, like police and fire departments, as well as public health programs for water purification, sewage treatment and inoculation against infectious diseases. Similar efforts could – and, in our view, should – help citizens cope with cyberthreats.

We are cybersecurity behavioral researchers working with Craig Orgeron, who heads the state of Mississippi’s Department of Information Technology Services, contemplating how government could support its citizens when it comes to cybercrime. A new endeavor demonstrates what is possible. New York City’s government has launched a campaign to help residents to defend themselves against hacking, online fraud and other cybersecurity threats.

New York City offers its citizens a free smartphone app called “NYC Secure.” Any U.S. resident can download it, no matter where they live. It scans the person’s smartphone for a range of threats, and offers advice on how to fix any problems it finds. The app has some key strengths.

Most importantly, it targets citizens individually, delivering advice from a trustworthy authority directly to their pockets. This does not require people to search for information online and then figure out which web source to trust.

The app essentially empowers citizens. Many hackers succeed because they exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities. Operating system providers and anti-malware software vendors make updates available to remove these, but the average citizen might not be aware of the need to install it. The app could bridge this gap, ensuring that far fewer devices can be successfully attacked.

NYC Secure App