1.8 Million Girl Scouts Take On Cybersecurity

Putting cookies in perspective, Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) will offer cyber security badges starting in 2018. In a two-pronged approach, GSUSA embraces their growing concern for the safety of its young Scouts online. They also take aim with the significant lack of career focus for girls and women in IT and other sciences. Girl Scouts from 5 to 12 years old will be poised to pin on those 18 new badges in the coming year.

In 2011, the GSUSA challenged the future of its Scouts by reforming their current curriculum. They are partnering with Palo Alto Networks for release of the September 2018 badges. The need to address and empower girls regarding latest social media sites and how to navigate dangerous pitfalls safely and securely is key. As the Scouts continue to move up the awareness chain with age, programs reflect realistic concerns they face. The Daisy’s at age 5 have fun learning with games and how to use a computer. The older Girl Scouts get involved much more directly with current cyber security, ultimately keeping themselves safer online.

The second prong of the cyber security program brings to light the statistics involving the alarming lack of women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. Earlier this year, a report from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education had some striking news. Only 11% of women currently hold positions involving cyber security and other STEM professions. With 51% of women holding master’s degrees compared to 45% of their diploma-wielding male counterparts, the numbers make even less sense. The GSUSA decided to do something about that.

With Palo Alto’s assistance, Scout STEM training for girls up 12 years old involves more diverse learning methods. Senior Scouts enjoy community involvement, trips involving cybersecurity and all-important mentorships. Knowing what’s behind the psychological “how and why” of threats like phishing work as well as they do ranks right up there with the Car Care badge.

The Girl Scouts are taking on the reality and importance of cyber security head-on. In a year from now, the girls will be proudly boasting their sashes, aware or not that their new security badges may open the door to more than just fun. Their impact on society and women’s equality in STEM professions may alter the world and its perception forever. Adding a new dimension to its ongoing relevance, GSUSA proudly forges into a cyber-scary world. The next time you stop to order a box of troop treats, don’t be surprised to hear “How many boxes would you like, and do you have an anti-virus program on your computer?”

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

Thirteen Tips for a Financially Healthy Family

1. Track spending to know where your money goes. Identify expenses that can be reduced or eliminated—and take immediate action.

2. Expect and prepare for emergencies. Aim for six months worth of expenses set aside in a liquid account.

3. If housing costs are too high, consider downsizing, renting or home sharing with friends or family members.

4. Communicate about family finances regularly with your spouse or partner, and any of your children you feel are old enough to be involved.

5. Do not try to “keep up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians).”

6. Explore nanny share care, babysitting co-ops, and subsidized daycare. Childcare is the single largest expense for most working parents, so investigate all reasonable options.

7. Explore whether you would be financially better off if one parent were to be a “stay at home” or a “work from home” parent.

8. Unless you have endless funds, accept that you can’t buy everything you want for your child. This is often harder than it sounds.

9. Remember that you are the single greatest role model in your child’s financial education. He or she will remember everything, from arguments about money to how you deal with debt. Teach them good habits now.

10. Pay for unreimbursed medical expenses and dependent care with pretax dollars using a flexible savings account. Check with your employer for availability.

11. Commit yourself to spending within your means. A line of credit should never be confused with an emergency fund or extra income.

12. Remember, you are not being “cheap” for the sake of saving a few dollars. You are being “frugal” for the well being of your family over the long term, and will come out ahead by doing so.

13. Get professional assistance and support to help you prioritize your expenses and understand debt repayment options.

BALANCE
January 2016

Could a Gap Year After High School Make Financial Sense?

In some parts of the world, a gap year – a year-long break between high school and college – is the norm. It’s starting to catch on in the U.S. as well.

It’s a chance for recent high school graduates to earn money, challenge themselves, explore the world and build their resume while experimenting with different career paths.

Those who take full advantage of the opportunity often find the experience to be rewarding and beneficial. And colleges report that students who start school after a gap year tend to earn higher grades, are more involved with campus life and graduate within four years at a higher rate than their non-gap-year peers.

Lessons you could learn along the way. Many people spend at least part of the year traveling, working or volunteering away from home. During the year, they may discover that what they originally wanted to study isn’t a good fit, or may come away with a newfound passion.

Entering college with this knowledge can help them focus on a major, plan their classes and graduate early. Or, at least avoid changing majors and extending their schooling. In either case, they can save tens of thousands of dollars.

During a gap year, young adults also often take a more direct role in their day-to-day finances. They can develop a greater appreciation for earning, and spending, money. In turn, this can give them a framework when taking out student loans and an extra push to apply for scholarships.

Finding structure for your gap year. To avoid squandering the year, you can look into formal programs that can help you achieve or define your personal, academic or career goals. According to the American Gap Association (AGA), a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon, over 80 percent of gap year students say the skills they acquired helped them be successful in their career after school.

Many choose service-oriented work. The federally backed AmeriCorps programs place volunteers throughout the U.S. to help communities in needs. Once you complete a full-time 10- to 11-month commitment, you may be eligible for a scholarship worth up to $5,815 (in fiscal year 2017). Some colleges and universities will also match a portion of the award.

Working for a local business could be another great option. You can earn money, see if you truly enjoy the work, network and may be able to line up work during school or for future summer jobs. The industry connections and mentorship you receive can also be valuable for your post-graduation job search.

Another resource for finding a program is the USA Gap Year Fairs, which provides a broad range of gap year experiences. Privately run programs may not offer compensation, but sometimes you can work in exchange for room and board. The experience can also serve as a foundation for cover letters when you apply for jobs or college admissions essays.

Funding your gap year. There are gap year options for students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

The AGA maintains a list of financial aid opportunities that can help you fund a gap year. The mix of merit- and need-based scholarships could cover the cost of a program or offset the cost of traveling or volunteering. If you have a particular program, ask the organization for recommendations.

Also, inquire with your university to see if it recommends or runs any programs. Some schools offer scholarships to admitted students who take a gap year, and a few will give you college credit for completing certain programs.

Once you start your college education, you can try to capitalize on your year off. There are many scholarships available to continuing college students and your experience could be a good jumping-off point for an essay.

Bottom line: Taking a gap year between high school and college is increasingly popular, although still not as common as it is in some other parts of the world. While jumping right into college and getting a degree is the traditional path towards employment, some parents and students see the benefit of taking a year off to better define one’s goals and gain real-world experience before going to college.

by Nathaniel Sillin

Jayden K Smith Is Not Your Friend Nor Does He Want To Be

The reports you have probably read, whether or not you have a Facebook account, about someone named Jayden K. Smith dying to be your friend are indeed true. What does that mean, you ask? There really is a hoax going around that asks Facebook users to spread the word not to connect to a particular “friend.” However, that particular person is not necessarily a hacker, may not even exist, and if you do accept any such requests, it does not mean your account is or ever will be hacked. In fact, that just isn’t the way hacking works.

Before going any further, a few tips. Facebook is a social media platform where you can connect with others, most definitely. However, it should be treated as any other location where there are a lot of strangers. If you are out at a party or at an event, you certainly can meet a lot of people. However, consider whether you would just hand over personal information to them right away. Think about all the information on your Facebook profile and decide if you want strangers to have access to that. Even though someone cannot hack your account merely by friending you, someone certainly can use the information from there to spearphish.

Spearphishing is a tactic used by hackers. They use specific information about a target that they can pick up from social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and others. Then they use it to send email messages or even place phone calls trying to get even more information that is useful to them; information such as payment card information, social security numbers, or in the case of the office, convince the target to perform a fraudulent wire transfer. This happens to those working in departments such as accounting and Human Resources, because those people often have access to sensitive information.

If you are browsing social media and get a friend request from a stranger, it typically is not recommended that you just blindly accept it. Ask your actual friends if perhaps it is a mutual friend that you just don’t immediately recognize before accepting. If no one knows, it could be someone with bad intentions.

In the case of Jayden K. Smith (and previously Anwar Jitou, Linda Smith, Christopher Butterfield, and Jason Allen), these messages are just an annoyance as far as anyone can tell and any request to share them should be ignored. What they do indicate is that people really don’t understand how identity thieves can get information about them or “hack” their accounts. While there are many ways this can happen, just friending someone is not one of them. However, giving them access to what you post on social media can lead to identity theft, fraud, or account access. So always make sure you know who your friends really are when it comes to social media.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

Verizon Customer Data Left Open For Anyone Who Cared To Look For It

There are nearly 114 million Verizon customers in the United States. Unfortunately, around 14 million of them have just become victims of a potential data breach. The potentiality of it is because the data was found by a researcher on an unsecured Amazon cloud server. And, while it may seem like “old hat” by now to hear of an intrusion, consider that in this one, transcripts of customer service conversations, customer names, the mobile phone numbers, and the PINs that allowed the customers full account access when calling customer service were left unsecured on the server and available for anyone who knew how to retrieve it.

Verizon does not believe the information was accessed by anyone other than the researcher who found it in June. However, the reality is that it is impossible to really know this. The significance is that with the name of the customer, the PIN and the cell number, anyone can contact customer service, possibly convince them they are the subscriber and do other harm

While you might immediately be skeptical about what damage can be done with this information, consider that even if you use multifactor authentication (MFA), many or even most services will send you a text message as that MFA code. If someone has that much information they ultimately can hijack your cell phone and retrieve that MFA code. This means that the possibility to log into your financial accounts and drain them of all funds exists.

Even though this could happen, it does not mean that utilizing any MFA that is available to you is a useless prospect. It is the opposite. Utilizing these services when available still lowers your risk of becoming a fraud victim significantly. Taking advantage of them is always better than not doing so because it is much more effort for someone to get access to those too.

For the time being, Verizon customers should strongly consider changing PINs for their accounts right away. It is unclear at this time if Verizon will require it, but Verizon customers should be proactive and do so anyway. With cell phones being so critical to our lives these days, why give a cybercriminal the opportunity to defraud you unnecessarily.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

How to Save Money While Welcoming a New Pet to Your Home

Whether it’s a dog, cat or another furry (or scaly) friend, many people have pets who are more than just animals – they’re part of the family.

Pets can be friends, they can offer nonjudgmental companionship when you’re feeling down and they can put a smile on your face. To provide the best care for a pet, you’ll want to be able to afford their needs, including the basics like food and healthcare. With this in mind, think carefully and review your budget before deciding to welcome an animal into your family.

Choose a pet that you can afford. While the initial cost of adopting or buying a pet is relatively small compared to the long-term expenses, the type of pet you choose does matter.

Admittedly, you might visit the pound and fall in love with a dog or cat. What can you do? The heart wants what the heart wants. Research is a must if you want to take cost-saving measures, though. For example, larger animal breeds may be more expensive to care for, partially because they simply eat more food. And if you’re taking in a dog you’ll want to consider the cost of training, which could set you back several hundred dollars.

Lifespan is another consideration. Hamsters, gerbils and some types of fish may only live a couple of years. A pet turtle, on the other hand, could live several decades.

Keep your pet healthy and happy. Health care can be one of the most expensive aspects of pet ownership. As with humans, it’s often best to invest in preventative care rather than treat emergencies.

Follow your pet’s recommended vaccination schedule and treatments, spay or neuter cats and dogs and visit the vet at least once a year for a checkup. Finding and dealing with health problems early on isn’t only less expensive, you may be able to prevent serious problems and improve your pet’s quality of life.

Some types of preventative care don’t require a visit to the vet, although you can still ask for recommendations. For example, brushing your dog’s teeth (with special toothpaste) can help prevent teeth and gum problems.

Consider pet insurance to cover emergencies. When a pet is part of the family, you’ll do anything to help him or her. You may want to have an insurance policy to help cover emergencies that you might not be able to afford otherwise. Particularly if you have a high-risk breed, a pet that tends to escape or you live in an area with a lot of other potentially aggressive animals.

Before buying a policy, read up on how pet insurance works. There can be important differences between pet and human policies.

Save money on nutritious food. Once you bring a pet home, it’s your responsibility to provide for them. You can ask your vet for food recommendations (and free samples) based on the pet’s type and age. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has general nutrition tips for dogs and cats, including age-based diet recommendations.

Once you’ve found a food that you and your pet likes, you may be able to get a discount by signing up for a subscription delivery service online. Or, if you don’t mind the workout, consider buying in bulk at a warehouse club.

Have a plan for when you’re unavailable. Another responsibility pet owners take on is making sure their pet is looked after while they’re away. The least expensive option may be to find a neighbor or friend who also has a pet and exchange free pet-sitting services.

Otherwise, you can look for a well-reviewed doggy daycare center or boarding service. You could try one of the several apps that connect you with someone who can feed, walk or play with your pet. If you’re away for several days, the apps can also help you find someone who will spend the night or take your pet to their home.

Bottom line: Taking a pet into your home and caring for them can be a rewarding and wonderful experience. It can also be life changing. Review the potential immediate and long-term costs to help ensure that you’ll be able to provide for a pet once they join your family.

by Nathaniel Sillin