Simple Steps to Online Safety: A Checklist For You and Your Staff

There are some rather simple and straightforward steps you can take to protect yourself as cybersecurity awareness most always starts with the individual.

Oct 5, 2017 | BLOG POST

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. This year, the US Department of Homeland Security has issued a series of five weekly topical themes:

  • Week 1: Simple Steps to Online Safety
  • Week 2: Cybersecurity in the Workplace is Everyone’s Business
  • Week 3: Today’s Predictions for Tomorrow’s Internet
  • Week 4: The Internet Wants YOU: Consider a Career in Cybersecurity
  • Week 5: Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Cyber Threats

Throughout October, ICMA, in partnership with the Public Technology Institute (PTI), will offer a variety of cyber-checklists specifically aimed at the public manager. The goal of this partnership is to help you better understand the importance of cybersecurity and provide you with the tools to make your organization a safer and more secure environment.  

This Week's Theme: Simple Steps to Online Safety

Cybersecurity breaches have grown 26 percent over last year with ransomware continuing to rise. Local governments have always been attractive targets since they collect and store such massive amounts of personal information. And with more mobile devices and social media apps, there are more entry points for mischief than ever before.

According to research from Egress Software Technologies, most data breach incidents in local government were caused by human error. There are some rather simple and straightforward steps you can take to protect yourself as cybersecurity awareness most always starts with the individual.  It is important to keep in mind there is another group that is observing us – our staff members. It's important to set an example by following key best practices yourself. Your team will adhere to best practices for mitigating cyber threats when you lead by example.

[Download Simple Steps to Online Safety: A Checklist For You and Your Staff]

1. Passwords still matter.

Using different passwords that contain and include at least 8 characters with numbers and symbols. Try and come with a formula where you can remember them too. For example, you may use an old address as a starter or transpose a letter for a number or symbol. Passwords should not begin with a capital letter, and underscore is a good way to separate a bunch of numbers.

2. Use multiple passwords.

By using multiple passwords for different accounts, you spread the risk of having one breach expose you to everywhere you have a login account. Too many passwords to remember? Consider using a “password manager” like LastPass or Dashlane. Most offer free versions that one can try out. While these systems require a complex master password, password managers do the rest. You can elect to have them assign complex random passwords and most have an autofill feature that fills in the necessary fields automatically. Another advantage is most password managers remember and recall passwords and payment information across your devices if you so choose. This includes PC, laptops, and all your mobile devices.

3. Think before you click

Ransomware and phishing attacks have increased dramatically the past 2 years. Many of these attacks can be traced to employees clicking and opening attachments. Before you open an attachment are you sure it is from a person or entity they say they are? Do you see suspicious signs like misspellings, using a salutation such as “dear customer” instead of your name, a return URL/address that is different from the senders? For example, if you receive something that appears to be from your bank, is the URL taking you to the bank or is it directing you somewhere else. It’s always best not to click on such emails regardless of how real they look. Instead simply go directly to the company’s site and see if there is any real issue for you to resolve. Finally, if in doubt always contact your IT folks as they have ways of checking authenticity without risk to others. 

4. Limit address book entries. 

It is shocking to learn how many professionals use their mobile device address books to store credit card numbers, passwords, family social security numbers, and birthdates. As tempting as it is don’t use your mobile device’s directory as your personal information database! Most cyber breaches attack your address books and yes, these same rogue software programs are programmed to search for this type of information in addition to all your contacts.  Remember, the bad-guys goal is to exploit every bit of information they can and use it to cause further havoc which could lead to identity theft, use passwords to enter systems to obtain further a perhaps more important information.

5. Update your devices.

Computer and mobile device manufacturers are routinely updating their operating systems to help improve performance as well as actively addressing known security vulnerabilities. It should go without saying, make sure you not only have the best virus and malware protection – but also make sure it is up to date in real-time to gain maximum protection. 

6. Avoid public Wi-Fi.

It is always tempting for on-the-go-people to connect every time they see a WI-FI hotspot. There are plentiful offerings at airports, trains, coffee shops, hotels, and conferences. Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi (free or not) can easily be exploited by the bad guys who can “see” what you are logging into with not much effort and be able to grab your passwords. Never conduct business in public places offering Wi-Fi that requires passwords which might include logging into your office or your bank.  Consider having your own mobile hotspot offered by all wireless carriers.  Even though you are still connecting via Wi-Fi it is far more difficult to snoop and the data is usually encrypted and ultimately converted to more secure cellphone frequencies.  

7. Secure your cloud.

The cloud stores huge amounts of information and serves as a free storage locker for your documents, photos, messages, and more. No matter what cloud provider or service you use, make sure you do your due diligence on their security practices. If they can’t easily and quickly tell you how your data is secured, odds are it isn’t. Also, for any accounts used to access your government’s data, make sure you have strong passwords and only access it via a computer you own or trust.  If you access your cloud on an infected device, a hacker could potentially learn your password and use it later on without your knowledge.

8. Back up your data.

Not regularly backing up your files exposes you to the risk of losing that information. By storing the backup information offsite on a daily and weekly basis, you minimize the loss of information.  

9. Read your organization’s acceptable use policy.

Every organization should have an acceptable use policy that is documented, reviewed, and maintained on a regular basis. Acceptable use policies typically include acceptable internet usage, how remote workers can access the network, social media regulations, and how to report security incidents.

10. Educate yourself.

Cybersecurity is not just a federal or private sector issue. It is a whole community issue that requires partnerships, vigilance, and proactive efforts on every level of government. To ensure that your municipality has adequate security measures in place, search for a training course that educates you on how to protect your organization and safeguard citizens’ records.

[Download Simple Steps to Online Safety: A Checklist For You and Your Staff]

Related Resources: 

About Public Technology Institute (
Created by and for cities and counties, the not-for-profit Public Technology Institute promotes innovation and collaboration for thought-leaders in government and advances the use of technology to improve the management and delivery of services to the citizen.


Get more content like this in your mailbox!

Subscribe via email


You may also be interested in