Protect yourself from would-be hackers

April 06, 2020

Man wearing headphones works on laptop with desktop monitor behind him Organizations across the country this spring are turning to Mizzou Engineering’s Prasad Calyam, director of the college’s Center for Cyber Education, Research and Infrastructure, for his expertise on keeping cloud-based platforms secure but still functional as more users access systems in healthcare, education and government.

It’s technical talk among cyber-savvy professionals, but for the rest of us — those trying not to lose our internet connection during a Zoom meeting — Calyam keeps it simple.

“A lot of best practices to be safe in cyber space are common sense,” he said. “But it is a good time to shine a light on the importance of cyber security.”

Portrait: Prasad Calyam


Calyam and Ronny Bazan Antequera an assistant professor in the Information Technology program and a senior PhD student under Calyam, both have a few suggestions on how you can protect yourself and equipment while working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis.


Hackers know we’re all a little distracted right now, and they’re using that to get people to click on malicious links. Emails are targeting users by promising COVID-19 testing kits, interactive pandemic maps, coupons for delivery services and other enticing offers.

“There are plenty of attackers taking advantage of this situation, and they’re using new methods to attack,” Bazan said.

Hyperlinks can be associated with any visible text, so even if a link looks official, it may not take you to the URL you expected. Rather than clicking on a link in an email, he recommends visiting a website directly from your browser.


When using applications to conduct business, take a minute to read up on that site’s security options information, Calyam said.

“Zoom, Facebook, Dropbox — they all have best practices to customize your security posture in cyber space,” he said. “Pay attention to those more if you have not paid careful attention to them before.”

Popular applications are also providing additional training in response to new attacks. Zoom, for instance, recently released instructions on how to keep unwanted attendees out of meetings.

And when you’re not using applications, be sure to close them, Calyam stressed.


Portrait of Ronny Bazan Antequera


In his upper-level cybersecurity course, Bazan’s students learn how hackers get access to passwords and operating systems.

It’s not hard for experienced cyber criminals. Sometimes, they can get a password by simply asking you to share information about a pet, hobby or your family history.

“Any password can be guessed,” Bazan said. “And there are many methods that can be used to get a password.,”

He suggests using complex combinations of numbers, symbols, lower and uppercase letters and having at least 12 characters in length. To better memorize your passwords, use phrases (also known as a passphrase) that swap letters with similar-looking numbers and characters, Bazan said.

If you need to store passwords, do not use paper or a file on your computer. Instead use a password manager solution, he said.


Calyam and his 10-year-old son have developed a presentation they’ve given to area elementary schools about cyber safety, and they are continuing to receive invitations to share the presentation via Zoom in the local community.

During the presentation, they explain the differences and similarities between the physical world and the cyber world. Calyam and his son encourage children to be truthful, helpful and kind online just as they’re taught to do elsewhere, and stress that they should expect the same from others online. And just as they would never give a key to a someone who doesn’t need it, they’re reminded to never give access to programs and information to strangers online.

“A lot of the principles are the same for the physical and cyber worlds,” Calyam said.

In addition to elementary schools, Calyam leads a summer network forensics camp for high school students.

For companies and organizations that need more advanced assistance, workshops and assessments are available through the Cybersecurity Center.