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VA Privacy Service

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Privacy Awareness Week 2021

Joe Stenaka, Chief Privacy Officer, sharing important tips to protect your privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced each of us to adjust to many new challenges in both our personal and professional lives. Beyond masking up and continuous hand washing, the pandemic has spurred us to spend a greater amount of time online — on our phones, computers, and tablets. It has kept us productive and in touch, but it also has created significantly more opportunity for our personal information to be at risk.

Recognized internationally, Privacy Awareness Week is a perfect opportunity to make sure our personal information is safely protected. This year’s theme, "Make Privacy a Priority," encourages you to evaluate your privacy hygiene and implement privacy best practices to safeguard your personal information and sensitive data.

Join the conversation on social media VA Office of Information and Technology LinkedIn Twitter @VA_CIO

Follow these tips to lock down your personal information and check out the resources below to better understand your privacy rights and responsibilities.

  • Update your antivirus software
    Anti-virus software is important to have on your computer because it protects it from dangerous websites and cyber threats. Anti-virus software packages will protect your computer/information and requires minimal effort to install.
  • Avoid clicking on links and attachments that are unfamiliar or seem questionable.
    When online, always be aware of phishing scheme. Cybercriminals often engage in phishing schemes, which are fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive data, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by pretending to be a trustworthy entity, like your bank. If you receive a phishing email with a suspicious website link or attachment, do not click on the link or open the attachment.
  • Use strong passwords and change them every 60–90 days.
    Having a strong password makes it significantly harder for cybercriminals to guess your password and gain access to your data. The most common password in 2020 was "123456" which takes less than a second to crack. Also, change your password at least every 60–90 days to prevent your account and data from being compromised.
  • Talk to your kids about the ABCs of online safety.
    Kids have easier and more widespread access to the internet more than ever. Be sure to encourage responsible online behavior by talking to your kids about privacy in conjunction with parental supervision.
  • Lock your computer and mobile devices with strong passcodes.
    Everyone has private information on their cell phones, computers, tablets, etc. Adding a passcode on your devices is an easy way to prevent criminals from stealing information either from physical theft or cyber theft.
  • Use two-factor authentication.
    The added step may take a little extra time, but the additional security is worth it. Two-Factor Authentication works like this; when you log into your account, the application will authenticate that this is the correct user by sending a code to the phone or email associated with the account. It may even use facial recognition. This creates an added level of protection because cybercriminals cannot access your account unless they have access to additional information. The added time is worth the protection.
  • Use secure, password protected wi-fi networks, whether at home, work, or in public.
    Public Wi-Fi is convenient, but it can also be the perfect vehicle for a cybercriminal to steal your data. Whenever possible, log onto private, password protected Wi-Fi. If this is not possible, avoid accessing banking information or making online purchases.

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