Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

A government agency wants you to make cybersecurity a part of your routine


The Department of Homeland Security hopes to make cyber hygiene as routine as brushing your teeth. The agency is launching a new public service campaign to promote simple steps you can take to protect yourself from online threats. NPR cybersecurity correspondent Jenna McLaughlin has the story.

JENNA MCLAUGHLIN, BYLINE: Remember being told, see something, say something, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Homeland security starts with hometown security, and we all have a role to play. Working together, we can all help secure our country. If you see something, say something.

MCLAUGHLIN: Or Smokey Bear giving you fire safety tips?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Smokey Bear) Only you can prevent forest fires.

MCLAUGHLIN: It's catchy, and people still remember it. That's where Jen Easterly comes in. She's the director of DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, for short.

JEN EASTERLY: It's better than saying the actual name, which is so cumbersome and hard to say.

MCLAUGHLIN: Her goal with a new cybersecurity awareness campaign and public service announcement is to make cybersecurity itself less cumbersome, less scary for the average person. Now that everyone's heard of ransomware or had a loved one scammed by cybercriminals, she thinks people are ready to hear it.

EASTERLY: So we want to make cyber hygiene as commonplace as buckling your seatbelt or brushing your teeth.

MCLAUGHLIN: The slogan is Secure Our World, to drive home the point that basically our whole world is digital now, and it's got four pieces of advice.

EASTERLY: First, strong passwords.

MCLAUGHLIN: So no 1234. Make it complex. Don't reuse passwords. And even better, use a password manager that stores them for you. That way, you remember one password, and your device remembers the rest.

EASTERLY: Step two, turn on multifactor authentication. When you have your sensitive accounts, you typically have a login and a password. So use one other factor, whether that's an SMS message that's sent to you or using an authenticator app.

MCLAUGHLIN: Third, keep an eye out for phishing emails, and report them when you see them.

EASTERLY: And finally, update your software.

MCLAUGHLIN: Those simple tips can prevent the vast majority of cyberattacks, says Easterly. And she says you'll start seeing the new PSA in football stadiums, airports, on TV.

EASTERLY: Our head of external affairs was at a football game. And she's like, oh, that's - Secure Our World just came up.

MCLAUGHLIN: It might be an uphill battle to make Secure Our World stick like previous public service campaigns or even popular ad slogans like Got Milk or Just Do It. But Easterly, a big music fan, has some ideas to help get it stuck in people's heads.

EASTERLY: I've been long obsessed with the idea of a cyber "Schoolhouse Rock."


JACK SHELDON: (As Bill, singing) How I hope and pray that I will, but today I am still just a bill.

MCLAUGHLIN: Jenna McLaughlin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jenna McLaughlin
Jenna McLaughlin is NPR's cybersecurity correspondent, focusing on the intersection of national security and technology.