Cybersecurity Awareness Month Wrap-up and Honoring Animal Heroes

Eette, a Labrador Retriever and Vizslas mix, stands next to her handler, TSA inspector Jasmine Bourne, before heading to a security checkpoint for a demonstration in 2016.

Eette, a Labrador Retriever and Vizslas mix, stands next to her handler, TSA inspector Jasmine Bourne, before heading to a security checkpoint for a demonstration in 2016. Jeff Roberson/AP

It looks like robots that can recognize emotion have not decided to rise up against humanity since my previous column was published. Perhaps they knew I had exposed their plans and decided to wait a bit before launching their assault. In any case, with no machine overlords to deal with, this week I am following up on my promise of a Cybersecurity Awareness Month wrap-up.

The concept of a government-sponsored National Cybersecurity Awareness Month began 16 years ago when the scope of cybersecurity threats was just starting to evolve into a national problem. Like many leaders that came before him, President Donald Trump continued this tradition by declaring October to be the month that government, industry and private citizens would focus special diligence on cybersecurity this year.

In the early days, NCSAM was focused almost exclusively on educating people about the need for cybersecurity and the growing problem of cyber threats. The programs initially offered by the government were pretty basic in terms of both information and scope. Today, both the world of cyber threats and NCSAM are vastly different.

Coordination for NCSAM today is done by the Homeland Security Department’s United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies division. It also heavily involves industry partners that are helping to protect their workforces from threats. And it thankfully doesn’t leave normal citizens behind either, continuing the message of threat awareness and education for everyone regardless of their age or experience.

For 2019, the overall theme of NCSAM was “Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.” And yes, they cleverly used IT in all caps to represent information technology. They even have a hashtag this year, which is #BeCyberSmart for those of you who want to search Twitter for NCSAM resources. 

I have to compliment Homeland Security on both the quality of the information and its presentation this year. It was a perfect balance of entry-level suggestions alongside advanced tips and tricks. And they even implemented sophisticated learning tools like gamification to help get the message across. For businesses, there is a complete NCSAM toolkit available for download that provides both information and helpful exercises to protect and educate users.

As impressive as the overall effort is this year, the 2019 NCSAM Trivia Game has got to be the crown jewel. I am constantly advocating for more gamification efforts from government, and often focus this column on whatever success stories I can find. People like to play games, and learning is enhanced when someone is doing an activity that they enjoy. So gamification, if done well, is a great tool to explain both entry-level and advanced concepts.

Anyone can download and play the 2019 NCSAM Trivia Game, which is configured to look like the board of the “Jeopardy!” TV Show. It’s created using Microsoft PowerPoint, so nobody should have any trouble getting it to run on their notebook or desktop. The questions are comprehensive, covering both cyber history and modern cybersecurity techniques. I played all the way through and only got one answer wrong, though I would have asked for a judge’s decision on that question if I wasn’t playing alone. The coffee shop scam described in the question I missed sounded more like a Man in the Middle attack to me over simple spoofing. In any case, the game was a perfect way to highlight NCSAM this year in a fun, interactive and informative way. I can’t wait to see what they do next year.

Honoring Animal Heroes

I have a little bit of space left this week and am going to ask you all to indulge me as I lead you a little bit off-topic. It’s important.

I never realized this, but the United States has no official method of recognizing animal heroes. Other countries do, with the British Dickin Medal being the most prestigious award given to our furry and feathered friends. There is an effort to change that, with the first presentation of the Medal of Bravery to deserving recipients, both living and passed, at the Rayburn House Office Building on November 14. The ceremony is part of an effort to make the bestowing of the award an official government program and to establish a museum to honor animal heroes.

The recipients for this first award are highly deserving. Animals receiving the award posthumously include Cher Ami (a pigeon who served in World War I), Chips (an Army dog from World War II), GI Joe (an Army pigeon from World War II), Sgt. Reckless (a Marine Corps horse that served during the Korean War), Stormy (a Marine Corps dog from Vietnam), and Lucca K458 (a Marine Corps dog that served in both Afghanistan and Iraq). GI Joe, who died in 1961, will be on display at the ceremony.

Living recipients this year include New York City Fire Department dog K-9 Bucca, who has helped to solve many arson and homicide cases. Another Bravery Medal winner, and one who certainly earned it, is Bass, a Marine Corps multi-purpose canine. Bass served for six-and-a-half years and completed 350 patrols in the Special Operations Command in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both Bass and K-9 Bucca will be in attendance along with their handlers to receive their awards.

It’s long past time that we started to honor animals that have saved lives and performed important duties. Let’s hope that the Medal of Bravery becomes official, and we can continue to celebrate our national animal heroes for many years to come.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys