How to stay safe online: Chris Simmons talks National Cyber Security Awareness Month

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In the wake of the massive security breach that exposed the personal data of nearly 143 million American customers of Equifax, one of three major credit reporting firms in the U.S., Chris Simmons, assistant professor of computer science and information security at Lipscomb, says it is important to use moments like this as lessons to learn from.

NCSAM_Side“In today’s digital age, we are all very connected and technology touches nearly every aspects of our lives…that’s why we have to be careful of how we are using our sensitive data,” said Simmons. “It is crucial for users to understand the potential risks and traps that hackers may use to capture important data, and that is why in 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and National Cyber Security Alliance created National Cyber Security Awareness Month – to help users become more aware of these risks.”

Throughout the month of October, in light of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Lipscomb’s College of Computing & Technology is committing to help spread the word about cyber security through engaging in conversation and using the hashtag, #LipscombCCTsafe, to help raise awareness about the cause.

“National Cyber Security Awareness Month helps to bring awareness to the public about how to maintain online safety,” said Simmons. “We are such a plugged in society right now, and oftentimes, people don’t recognize that when they are attempting to log onto a public wifi, it could be a hacker’s trap; or when they use the same password across multiple platforms – they are much more vulnerable to attacks.”    

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cyberspace and its underlying infrastructure are vulnerable to a wide range of risk stemming from both physical and cyber threats and hazards. Sophisticated cyber actors and nation-states exploit vulnerabilities to steal information and money and are developing capabilities to disrupt, destroy, or threaten the delivery of essential services.

Simmons says there are six simple tips to help the community to stay safe online:

  1. Do not use online banking on your phone because there is not enough security walls to protect that sensitive data.
  2. Use caution when logging onto public WIFI and entering sensitive data because hackers can use it as a trap.
  3. Change passwords every three months to ensure info is secure, and never save passwords to your computer, especially when it is connected to sensitive data.
  4. Never give out your personal passwords, and don’t leave them on a sticky note by your computer.
  5. Don’t click on any unknown links or emails because it may contain malware or a virus.
  6. Cover computer cameras to aid with privacy.

For years, students from within Lipscomb’s College of Computing & Technology have participated in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, and as a result, the college has recently implemented a cyber defense course. Throughout the semester long training course students learn how to ethically hack, said Simmons.  

“We want to teach students how to ethically hack so they will know how to identify vulnerable systems and properly defend against malicious hacks,” said Simmons. “Within one of our projects, the class ran a vulnerability scan on a major retail corporation and discovered potential cross-site scripting and SQL injection vulnerabilities. It is important to give these students hands-on experience to know how to detect and combat these areas of vulnerability, because according to a study by the Center for Safety and Education, there will be a shortage of 1.8 million security workers by 2022. So it is crucial to train our students to know how to step into these roles.”

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Want to learn more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month and each week’s themes? Visit