It’s October again, when the leaves change colors, the air gets a bit chillier and America’s fancy turns to football, costume parties and National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM).

Since its inception in 2004, National Cyber Security Awareness Month has been a collaborative effort between industry and the government to help citizens learn and, hopefully, act upon ways to stay safe and secure online. The NCSAM project originated within the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), which was founded in 2001 by a handful of leading technology companies.

A Constellation of Initiatives

Today, there’s a growing constellation of public and private initiatives in support of these worthwhile goals. Some of these include:

  • Stay Safe Online, the official website of the NCSA;
  • Stop.Think.Connect., a global online safety awareness campaign created by the NCSA and the Anti-Phishing Working Group and now sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security;
  • RSAC CyberSafety: Kids, a program adopted by the RSA Conference with a specific focus on keeping kids safe online and providing materials for industry professionals to leverage in their home communities; and
  • RE: Cyber, a collaboration between the NCSA and Business Executives for National Security aimed at providing business leaders and boards with resources to help identify, assess and manage risks.

About This National Cyber Security Awareness Month

According to the National Cyber Security Awareness Month one pager, each week in October is assigned a specific theme:

  • Oct. 3 to 7, 2016: Everyday Steps Toward Online Safety;
  • Oct. 10 to 14, 2016: Cyber From the Break Room to the Board Room;
  • Oct. 17 to 21, 2016: Recognizing and Combating Cybercrime;
  • Oct. 24 to 28, 2016: Our Continuously Connected Lives; and
  • Oct. 31, 2016: Building Resilience in Critical Infrastructure.

Hats off to the organizers of NCSAM. This year’s agenda clearly recognizes that raising cybersecurity awareness is essential not only for citizens, but also for companies, law enforcement, connected devices and critical infrastructure. The initiative underscores the pervasive role of cybersecurity in our society. NCSAM has come a long way after 13 Octobers of raising awareness.

Reality Check

While celebrating this progress, of course, we must also keep in mind that greater security awareness by individual users doesn’t necessarily mean a change in individual behaviors. Nor does greater awareness by business leaders mean greater understanding of cyber risks and more deliberate, risk-based allocation of resources. Acknowledgment of this problem is the all-important first step.

Unfortunately, the problem will likely get worse before it gets better. Many American citizens may benefit from the call for high-speed broadband and free public Wi-Fi, for example, but it can also create more vulnerable targets for phishing, ransomware, identity theft and other types of attacks.

At the moment, no one really knows the effective frequency for cybersecurity awareness on a national scale — that is, the number of times we need to be exposed to these messages about safe and secure online practices before we proactively change our behaviors. In the meantime, the logical next step is to participate fully in National Cyber Security Awareness Month and join this increasingly important conversation.

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