By Amanda Huffman
Cybersecurity awareness feels like a fancy term that your spouse, who is serving in the military, may need to know, but why would you need to know about cybersecurity? The truth is we all need to understand the basics about securing our online presence. If you are accessing the internet and have any of your information stored there, you should know about the different threats and how to be prepared to protect your information.
There are four main areas you should be concerned about when it comes to cybersecurity: phishing scams, password security, protecting your information, and updating your software. In this article, I will focus on phishing scams and how to protect your information, plus additional layers you can add to your password security.
Updating software is another important topic — and it’s something my husband reminds me to do regularly. Sometimes software updates include changes to layouts that can feel annoying, but software updates also include bug fixes and security updates. So even though it might be annoying to figure out how to find things in the new software layout, it is important to install these updates.
Phishing scams often target specific groups. While older people are often the targets of these scams, the military community has also been targeted. For example, I am a member of more than one of the large, well-known military banks, and have received fake letters and emails trying to get me to share my password information.
Scammers will often pretend to be sending an email from your bank and if you click the link they send, it appears as though your are going to the landing page for your bank. In reality, you are going to a fake version of the bank’s website, so if you then enter your login and password, boom! The scammer will now have this information and they can use it to access your account on your bank’s real website. If you fall for this scam and do not get directed to your bank account information after logging in, you should immediately type your bank’s webpage URL directly into the browser, log in and change your password. Also, if you use the same login information or password for any other accounts, make sure to change those as well.
To protect yourself against email scams, be sure to check the “from” field in your email. Often it will look like it is coming from your bank, but when you click on it to see what the exact email address, you will find some irregularity. That lets you know that something is off. Also, I use a program that saves my passwords for my accounts on different websites. If I happened to go to an account website pretending to be my bank, email, or other sites I can tell it isn’t real because the password and username won’t auto-populate on a fake website.
Another type of phishing scam is when scammers try to call you to get your personal information. A few months ago, I got a phone call from someone pretending to be from Amazon. They told me someone had tried to log in to my account and now they needed information to help authenticate my account and unlock it. At first, I started to listen to what they had to say because I thought, “Oh no, this doesn’t sound good.” But then warning bells went off in my head. I have alerts set up on my Amazon accounts so that if someone tries to login I get a text message notification. I hadn’t gotten a text like that the day I got the scam call. Even though the information they were sharing felt real, I knew it was a scam. I quickly hung up the phone and then logged directly into my Amazon account. Nothing was amiss and my two-factor authentication requiring a pin to log in was still in place.
Even though I know how important it is to not give out information over the phone, I was almost tricked into sharing my personal information with a scammer. Had I not had two-factor authentication, I’m not sure I would have realized that this call wasn’t real. Remember that companies will not ask for your password and username over the phone. USAA has a phone password to help authenticate that it is you, but you only use it when you call USAA and not the other way around. Also, the phone password is completely separate from your login information. USAA won’t require you to give personal information over the phone.
As I mentioned, another important way to protect yourself is to have two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication (also called “multi-factor authentication” and sometimes abbreviated as “2FA”) can be turned on for many accounts to help keep your information safe. Two-factor authentication can feel like you have to take an unnecessary step. But if someone happens to get your password, they will not be able to log in into your account without the second step. It also will notify you if someone does log in with your password and tries to authenticate. I recommend that you have two-factor authentication for your bank accounts and for any company that has your credit card information on file.
It would be nice to think you won’t ever be a victim of a cybersecurity attack but it is a real threat and something you need to be aware of. Taking the simple steps of checking the “from” field before clicking a link, using software to store passwords, and adding two-factor authentication when needed will help you to protect yourself. And don’t forget to update your software when new updates come out.
Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, is the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War Horse, Military.com, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more.