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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.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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