Libraries offer resources during National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM)

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Online security is a growing concern, especially in the wake of the alarming cyber attacks that have compromised the personal information of millions.

One of the most shocking was the attack on the credit reporting agency Equifax, which affected more than 140 million users.  Prior to that hack, the Pew Research Center found in a 2016 study that more than 60 percent of Americans had been affected by a major data breach or data theft incident.

As we search for resources to make ourselves less vulnerable, one resource we can use is our nation’s public libraries, which are offering digital literacy training and valuable information.

Throughout the month of October, the Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and public libraries nationwide will celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). NCSAM was created as a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure every American has the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online.

In Kansas, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library recently hosted a public training session about online safety and security to help patrons spot adware/malware traps and avoid online scams.  David Lee King, digital services director at Topeka and Shawnee, said, for example, “Sometimes we have taught a class on Facebook privacy, because the settings change all the time, right? So how to handle that kind of thing.”

But a lot of the training is handled through classes.  “We do a lot of computer class-type training, and so probably in almost every one of those classes, we’ll mention something about privacy or security or not using the same password everywhere,” he said.

The classes, he said, run the gamut of users.  “We get different types of learners, from somebody who is just starting out and needs to learn how to use their mouse even and set up an email account to people coming back for Excel spreadsheet training,” he said.  “People who maybe use a computer in their daily life don’t necessarily think that way about it. That this is personal data I am putting out on the open web. It’s good to catch people there and just remind them. This is you. Be careful about what you are sharing.”

In addition to patrons being careful, libraries also have to practice caution.

“As far as state laws go, we’re supposed to protect patron information, patron confidentiality, which means more than just your list of things you have checked out these days. We have got addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, library card numbers, etc. We have other systems that use credit cards to pay fines. So we need to make sure on the back end that all of our stuff is secure.”

Also, libraries have to maintain good Wi-Fi practices.  King said, “We have a Wi-Fi network. We need to make sure that other people can’t hack into that.and find passwords.”

Chicago Public Library (CPL) is another library paying close attention to cyber security. It has CyberNavigators on staff at branch locations throughout the city to assist patrons one-on-one with their computer questions. CPL has also partnered with Microsoft to create an additional course on their website https://chipublib.digitallearn.org titled "Keeping Your Computer Secure."

PLA is highlighting cyber security material on DigitalLearn.org, self-directed, interactive online tutorials it has developed to increase digital literacy. DigitalLearn.org offers courses that help one recognize danger and stay safe online. These include:

  • Accounts and Passwords. This course teaches the basics of creating online accounts, including creating secure passwords and keeping accounts secure.
  • Online Scams. This course helps new computer users identify and recognize types of scams, how to avoid getting hurt, and how to report them.
  • Internet Privacy.  This course helps learners understand the level of personal, confidential information we can share on websites and via email, and take control of the information we are constantly sending and receiving.

PLA recently added to DigitalLearn.org a set of customizable templates for instructors to design their own classroom training sessions. In recognition of NCSAM, PLA encourages libraries to develop classes focusing on the basics of cybersecurity, covering topics like computer viruses, antivirus software, safe web browsing, and strategies for creating and remembering effective passwords.

In February, PLA announced a partnership with Cox Communications (Cox) to build branded DigitalLearn websites for libraries in three pilot markets—Tucson, Arizona; Topeka, Kansas; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana—while connecting low-income families with digital literacy training and resources. In all Cox markets across the company’s 18-state footprint, Cox and the local libraries will collaborate on digital literacy and internet adoption initiatives, including an advertising campaign on Cox’s cross-channel cable lineup.

Additional information on NCSAM can be found at https://staysafeonline.org/ncsam.