STOP. THINK. CONNECT. With Your Devices

October 10, 2014

What do you think of when you hear the term “plug and play”?

If you're like most people, you don't give it a second thought because everything you own is probably plug and play and you were able to set it up a few seconds after you bought or downloaded it – no thinking required.

The irony of plug and play is that while the practical concept of getting new gadgets, programs and apps up and running on your devices quickly and easily is one of the primary reasons the world is so wonderfully connected, it's also the reason so many of us observe poor security practices.

With everything being so easy to install, it’s only natural for us to think that we don't have to know anything about the devices or programs that we're about to upload onto our devices. We’ve gotten used to doing everything quickly and without thinking. 

How does it work?
"Don't worry, it's intuitive!"

What if something goes wrong?
"Nothing ever goes wrong!"

Why do I need a new password for this account?
"It doesn't matter, so I'll just use my old standard: Snoopy123."

What about security?
"What's that got to do with anything?

And so we all got used to connecting, installing and clicking without thinking. And the bad guys figured out that this resulted in a lot of people who were easy targets.

And that puts us all at risk.

STOP. THINK. CONNECT., which urges us to stop and think before we go online, is the perfect theme for NCSA’s cybersecurity education and awareness program, and the good news is that a little thinking goes a long way in keeping you safe.

Take passwords, for example. Even with all of the recent hacks and data breaches and the very real risk of identity theft, a recent survey found that more than 60 percent of respondents admitted to reusing passwords. The bad guys know that there is money to be made by trying those hacked email account logins and passwords at banks and other financial and retail sites, and they can make lots of money hacking accounts this way.

Three easy ways to protect yourself online

When you consider your assorted email and financial accounts, utilities, favorite online shopping sites, children's schools and  social media accounts, it's no surprise that most people today have more than 20 to 30  password-protected accounts. Thinking of strong and unique passwords for all of them is a challenge. Remembering them is downright impossible. Now, we’re told we also must change them regularly. 

Unfortunately, that’s our reality today. But on the plus side, you can take a few simple steps to protect yourself when online:

Be responsible for your security. You can't afford to ignore security in the hopes that others will do it for you. You can use tools like anti-virus and security checkups to keep a clean machine. For a list of free security checkups, visit Additionally, make sure that you are keeping your software up to date. Bad guys attack your computer by exploiting the holes in out-of-date software. For tips on keeping a clean machine, see

You’ve heard it over and over again, but it still rings true: Using a long, strong and unique password for each and every one of your accounts is vital to keeping them safe. The key elements of strong passwords are:

  • The longer, the better. Most websites require that your passwords must be at least 8 characters, but 12 or 14 characters is exponentially stronger.
  • Don't use any personal information in your password. Using your pet's name, favorite football team or your daughter's nickname in your password creates holes that hackers can find and exploit.
  • Don't use any dictionary words in your password. Just don’t!
  • Mix and match upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters.

Everyone can forget a password. If you can remember all of your passwords with no problem, then you are either extraordinarily gifted, or you are doing it wrong. Write it down and keep it safe: Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place away from your computer.

Stay informed about data breaches and security issues that are reported in the news. You don't have to become an expert to be able to help yourself and the ones you love. By simply paying attention, you'll be more informed than most of the people around you. Oh, and don't go phishing: be sure you don't click on any link that you're even a little suspicious about. To learn more about what phishing is and how to detect, avoid and report attempts, visit

By being proactive and using a good sense of judgment, we can be a little safer online. Even when we plug and play.