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Being vigilant while online

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, ILL. -- We live in a day and age of exponential progress. Take our population, for example. There were one billion humans on the planet by 1800, but by 1927, one and a quarter century later, it was double that. In even less time, by 2011, the population had exploded to seven billion, more than triple the expansion.

Technology is advancing in a similar pace. In the same timeframe as our population tripling, we have gone from planes that barely fly, to drones that can be flown thousands of miles away and satellites that can take photos of stars billions of light years away. In our own home, we have advanced to the point that all the staple items of the past desktop have all been condensed into a single device that can fit in your back pocket that can instantly connect you to nearly any human anywhere on the planet.

This advancement has allowed us to be interconnected in ways a person 50 years ago would never have imagined. As great as that is, there is a dark side to it. As technology has advanced, so too has its propensity for abuse. People from all walks of life, from bored teenagers looking to make waves to anarchists seeking destruction, have turned to technology to realize their ambitions.

Every day, we are bombarded by these malicious actors. Spam emails claiming that we won contests we never entered or threatening legal action unless we comply with demands clog our inboxes. Ads curated to your interests litter your social media, leaving you wondering how they knew you loved musicals. Downloaded photos contain viruses and ransomware, locking you out of your own devices unless your pay. Worse still, every day people fall victim to identity theft because of information they put out for all to see, leaving a breadcrumb trail back to their own assets for any to take.

Knowing this is enough to give anyone pause. Am I safe? Is my family and work safe? What can I do to protect myself? Luckily technology and the people around us can give us the keys to do just that. In this age of connectedness it’s more important now than ever to have the backs of those around you.

Be vigilant of those around you and alert them to anything they put out that could be used against them. Even small pieces of information can be pieced together and used against you. Protecting your devices with defensive software like antivirus and encryption can also help, but only if you keep both it and your device up-to-date with the latest updates from the vendor. Finally, stay aware of threats and ensure those around you know as well. When it comes to cyber threats, there is never a single target. When you become aware of something, alert those around you. Odds are, they might be the next target.

Lastly, be cognizant of your actions. Once something is on the internet, it tends to stay there. If you or anyone you know suspects that they have put information out that can be used against them, immediately revise anything it can be connected to.

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