Podcast 🎧 & blog: Upgrading the first line of cyber protection in Moldova
The saying goes, that the weakest link in the chain of cybersecurity is people. But what about a change of perspective? People, instead, could be considered the first line in a cyber battlefield. An approach that signalled a change of mindset in Moldova, for example, within the ongoing EU-funded project on developing cybersecurity rapid assistance. Including citizens in the scope, next to technical development, to increase online safety.
In this episode of the Digital Government Podcast, Rica Williams joins us to discuss the awareness-raising on cybersecurity. As an Expert and Communication Expert involved, from eGA’s side and that of local initiative (Digital Safety) Siguranța Digitală, we delve into what comes after disseminating valuable information, and some key tips to stay safe online.
Diverse spheres in cybersecurity projects – Siguranța Digitală
While technical aspects like server improvements and training sessions are integral, the broader view on cybersecurity includes general public awareness and capacity building. In Moldova, awareness raising, often a minor component in such projects, gained a significant role. This shift occurred as stakeholders realized the importance of understanding societal gaps, such as lack of funding, authority, or coordination.
Siguranța Digitală, as a key example of such initiatives, aims to increase knowledge of individual cyber safety practices. The project involved creating an online learning course in Romanian, focusing on basic cyber hygiene, supplemented by news articles and social media efforts. This approach aimed to address the lack of easily accessible cybersecurity education for the general public.
In Williams’ view, personal responsibility is crucial in digital safety, debunking the common misconception that cybersecurity is solely an IT department’s concern. Parallels between online and real-world safety, however, and even if often overlooked, give us insights into how we all can improve the way we care about our personal information and digital data.
Individuals need to be vigilant about their digital actions, such as password management and device security. The goal is to make cybersecurity a part of everyday consciousness, similar to locking one’s door or wearing a seatbelt.
Post-awareness: knowledge and behaviour change, for the best
But raising awareness is just the beginning of the journey in cybersecurity. The next steps, according to Williams, involve gaining deeper knowledge tailored to specific needs – and, ultimately, aiming for behavioral change.
The latter is, arguably, one of the most challenging aspects of such initiatives, requiring a deep understanding of human psychology and motivations. To this end, the project in Moldova witnessed a focus shift from merely warning about cyber attacks, to fostering a general awareness of safety in the digital world. Awareness must be followed by continuous education, Williams says, and a collective effort to change behaviors and mindsets. This approach is particularly crucial in countries like Moldova, where certain scams, such as financial schemes, are prevalent due to specific socio-economic factors.
Which leads us to another key aspect of effective project planning and execution – localization. Without a sufficient degree of tailoring wider, general topics to the specificities of a given country, initiatives may fall short of achieving the goals envisioned. Because every context is different and, particularly in terms of attitudes and behaviours, interventions must suit well the target nations at hand.
Active engagement of various local stakeholders, in this sense, is the way to go. From the planning phase. So that projects can extend beyond government beneficiaries, to include private organizations, NGOs, and even individual citizens. Public-private partnerships, as well, facilitate the engagement of significant players in the private sector, such as telecom companies and banks. For example, these may disseminate cyber safety messages to customers, illustrating the project’s emphasis and individual recommendations we can all put to immediate, good use.
Five essential cybersecurity practices for the online world
So what are these easy-to-deploy recommendations to keep in mind? Here are five, as emerged from the experience in Moldova, and listed on Siguranța Digitală’s knowledge base.
- Secure physical access to devices
The first step in cybersecurity is to secure physical access to your devices. This means ensuring that your computer, phone, and other digital devices are locked and safely stored when not in use. Just like locking your house or car, securing your devices is a basic yet critical measure.
- Strong password management
The use of strong, complex passwords is a cornerstone of online safety. Common advice is using longer passwords that incorporate a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The longer and more complex your password, the more secure it is.
- Be wary of too-good-to-be-true offers
Cybercriminals often lure victims with offers that seem too good to be true. Williams cautions against clicking on links or engaging with content that promises unrealistic rewards, as these are often traps for phishing or financial scams.
- Regular backups
Regularly backing up important data and files is a crucial practice. This ensures that in the event of a device being lost, stolen, or compromised, your essential data remains accessible and secure.
- Digital literacy and responsible online behavior
Lastly, Williams emphasizes the importance of digital literacy and responsible online behavior. Understanding the permanence of online actions and being mindful of how we behave in digital spaces can significantly reduce vulnerabilities. This includes being cautious about sharing personal information and being aware of the potential risks in our digital interactions.
The first line of protection is ourselves, with regards to both our own data and personal information, and the wider cyberspace we are part of. It takes just some easy steps to stand by that responsibility, and feel also more peace of mind.
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