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updated 10/7/2011 5:22:33 PM ET 2011-10-07T21:22:33

October marks the 8th annual National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC).

Officially, this year’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month theme is "Our Shared Responsibility" and will feature a different cybersecurity issue each week.

NCSA is sponsoring public events all over the country that will focus on various aspects of cybersecurity, such as keeping children safe, privacy issues and social networking.

"Cybersecurity is of course not something we can pay attention to for only one month each year. It is a shared responsibility each and every day," wrote Howard Schmidt, President Obama's cybersecurity coordinator, on the White House blog.

So why do we need a National Cybersecurity Awareness Month at all?

"As noted on the Department of Homeland Security website, America's economic prosperity and competitiveness in the 21st century depends on effective cybersecurity," said Joseph Steinberg, CEO of Green Armor Solutions, Inc., in Hackensack, N.J.

"While the task of ensuring our nation's physical security is achieved through our military and law enforcement organizations, cybersecurity assurance cannot be delegated, and relies heavily on the involvement of civilians," Steinberg said.

"Personal computers and smartphones, if compromised, can be used as vehicles for crippling networks, launching attacks at important computer systems or stealing sensitive data," he said. "The government cannot protect people's personal machines, [but] it cannot prevent someone from visiting a rogue website and downloading malware, or stop someone from accidentally leaking information or distributing a virus."

National Cybersecurity Month provides an opportunity and vehicle for educating the public — as well as a wake-up call to those who have not been attributing sufficient mindshare to cybersecurity — and is a step in the right direction along the path to American security and prosperity in the 21st century, Steinberg added.

Everyone who uses a computer needs to take responsibility for personal digital security. Kindsight, an ID theft prevention company in Mountain View, Calif., provided a few things computer users can do to keep their computers, their identities and their data safe.

Protect your personal information. Keep all private information, as well as details that can identify your location, off social-networking services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Never share user names, passwords, Social Security numbers, account numbers, PINs or ID numbers online.

Learn to identify suspicious emails. Phishing emails often include misspelled brands and URLs, links to third-party sites or ominous threats about blocked accounts and activity. If you open a suspicious email by accident, do not click any links or open any attachments.

Scan your software downloads. Be sure to check a website's URL, or Web address, before you download something. Hackers often use similar-sounding URLs and rig search results so that you download their malware accidentally. Make sure you download directly from a software manufacturer’s website and double-check your download with an anti-virus scan. (You do have anti-virus software, don't you?)

Update your security software and other applications. Hackers like to exploit computers that don't have the latest security updates for their anti-virus software, for applications such as browsers, and for all plug-ins that are on your computer. Do regular checks to make sure your security software and other applications are up-to-date so you can safely surf the Web.

Ask your ISP for help. Internet service providers (ISPs) are beginning to offer network-based security for a small fee, or sometimes even for free. Network-based security can catch threats that your anti-virus software may have missed. To protect devices at home, security needs to be both in the network and on the device. Give your ISP a call and ask about network-based security.

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