Cyber Safety vs Cyber Security: Do you Know the Difference?

Society’s dependency on technology has become an undeniable fact of life. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you need your phone, laptop, smart television, or the Internet because we all do. However, there is something wrong with not knowing how to keep yourself safe while using any of your devices on the world wide web of craziness.

What is the difference between cyber safety and cyber security? Cyber safety and cyber security are related and involve online safety. But they have important differences with Cyber safety responsible for protecting people when they are online and cyber security involves protecting information and keeping it safe, secure from hackers and other malicious parties.

Here are 10 detailed differences between Cyber safety and Cyber security.

  1. Cyber Safety protects people
  2. Cyber security protects information
  3. Poor cyber safety leaves people personally vulnerable
  4. Poor cyber security leaves a system vulnerable to hackers
  5. Cyber safety and strong passwords go hand-in-hand
  6. Cyber safety depends on mindful downloading
  7. Cyber safety means careful social posting
  8. Cyber security relies on a firewall
  9. Cyber security is best with software is up to date
  10. Cyber security is best with multi-factor authentication

Cyber safety and cyber security are both very important concepts that anyone in this day and age needs to understand this to live safely with the Internet in their lives, and, unfortunately, not many people know the real difference. So, below I have listed the ten main things that differentiate cyber safety from cyber security. I hope these help you stay safe on the web.

1. Cyber Safety Protects People

At its core, cyber safety is the safe and responsible use of personal information online. Once upon a time, any personal information you had would be kept at home in a lockbox or protected in a safe at the bank.

Now, more and more people are taking advantage of the ease of storing personal information and documents digitally—whether it be via flash drive, email, or one of the many programs used to organize your information.

Even if you do not store your documents online, every time you fill out a form online, whether it be a job application or ordering pizza delivery, your personal information is put into the world. While these advances are wonderful, they also pose a threat to your cyber safety.

In general, being online exposes everyone to so many bad people who would take advantage of your personal information. Cyber criminals who want to steal your identity and commit fraud. Cyber bullies who want to use your information to harass you and your family. Online predators of all kinds prowl for unsuspecting victims – from children to seniors.

Each time anyone connects to the Internet—whether it’s their personal Internet or a public connection—they are forced to make decisions that can affect their cyber security, which is NOT the same as cyber safety.

Cyber safety is an act, meaning everyone has to mind how they behave on the Internet when it involves their personal information. Cyber safety is up to each individual person.

2. Cyber security Protects Information.

While cyber safety and cyber security go hand in hand, they are not the same. As I said before, it’s becoming more and more common to use the Internet for basically anything, which means you can’t really prevent your personal information from getting online no matter how hard you try.

However, you can prevent others from having access to it. This is where cyber security comes into play. Cyber security consists of systems put in place to protect your networks, devices, and data from being accessible to others.

Cyber security systems include things like firewalls, gateways, content filters, spam filters, or ad blockers. (Don’t worry, we’ll include some definitions.) These measures protect the places where your information is stored from hackers or online attackers from being able to get to your information.

These systems can’t stop a child from unknowingly putting their parent’s credit card information on a phishing website or keep cyberbullies from sending threats, but they can help keep criminals from being able to breach your network and steal your personal or financial data.

Cyber security is a system of protection put in place to protect you and your information at all times, not just when you are online. These systems can either be bought from cyber security companies or set up by yourself if you understand how to do so properly.

Useful Cyber security Terms

Hacker, Attacker, or IntruderThese are people who have the skills to seek and exploit any weaknesses in your computer system. In some cases, their intentions may pose no real threat, but their actions violate the intended use of their systems as well as yours. With access to your system, dangers could range from mischievous teens using a virus to shut down your computers to a criminal stealing all of your saved passwords and financial information. See the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website[1] for more information.
Malicious Code or MalwareThis is a file or program placed on your computer specifically to cause harm or disrupt the data saved. The terms virus, worms, and Trojan horses are all types of malicious codes, and they can be caught as easily as opening an email. Malicious codes can only be stopped by doing something before they infect you. Again, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website[2] is a great resource.
VulnerabilitiesAny weaknesses in your computer’s software or protection program are called vulnerabilities. These can be the result of outdated software or program error and can be exploited by cybercriminals. See the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website[3] for more information.
FirewallsThis is a digital device that protects your network by monitoring traffic coming in and out. It also decides what data packages are allowed into your network and blocks malicious codes and attackers. Firewalls are essentially protective barriers between your network and the Internet.
GatewaysAny device connected to your computer network, like a node or router, is considered a gateway. Their key purpose is to act as a stopping point as data passes between devices from other networks. 
Content FiltersThese are programs designed to monitor computer’s access to certain websites or emails. These filters work by identifying content patterns in order to detect undesirable content and block its access to your computer. See the Barracuda’s website[4] for more info.
Spam FiltersThis is a type of filter used specifically in emails to detect possibly malicious emails, otherwise known as spam. Spam filters apply to both ingoing and outgoing emails and are typically preinstalled by your email provider.  See Mail Channel for more spam information.[5]

3. Poor Cyber Safety Leaves People Personally Vulnerable

It is not enough to just know what cyber safety is; we all must understand what the risks are of not maintaining high-quality cyber safety. The groups that are most vulnerable to poor cyber safety are children and the elderly since they are the most frequently targeted. So, if you have kids or seniors in your home, then this information is super important.

The biggest risk of poor cyber safety is susceptibility to cyber bullies and cyber predators. It has been reported that 90% of teens say that cyber bullying has been a problem for them at some point in their life. Social media has become a virtual playground for all the kids in the world, and just like the real playground, you have to prepare your kids for how to deal with bullies and be cyber safe.

Just like real-life bullies become cyber bullies, real-life predators become cyber predators. These predators can use the anonymity of the Internet to pose as anyone of any age and develop relationships with their victims. Cyber predators attempt to lure children into unsafe situations, right from the comfort of your own home.

Scams are another risk that you are open to with poor cyber safety. Scams are not always as obvious as the Nigerian prince offering millions of dollars. They can be attached to online games or “special” features, which make them easier for kids and online shoppers to fall in to. It’s important to remember that anyone can be susceptible to a scam.

4. Poor Cyber security Leaves a System Vulnerable to Hackers

When talking about cyber security, there are even more risks involved if you are not properly protected. Being vulnerable to a cyber attack means leaving all of your information unprotected – meaning it is basically out in the open for hackers and intruders to pick through.

The biggest risk you leave yourself open to is the possibility of identity theft. Something as simple as your full name and home address can be used by a hacker to create identification with your information.

Once this is done, these criminals can sign up for credit cards or loans under your name, which can ruin your credit score and financial portfolio. They can even commit crimes under your name!

Speaking of finances, another huge risk you are at risk at when you have poor cyber security is leaving your banking information open to cyberattacks as well. With this information, hackers can take money directly out of your account or use your card information to purchase things online.

Millions of people are affected by identity left every year. Once your identity has been stolen, it can take years to get things sorted out because it gets to a point where you have to fight to prove that you are yourself.

5. Cyber Safety and Strong Passwords Go Hand-in-Hand

Since cyber safety is based on how each individual person acts online, it is important to follow a certain set of rules when online. I have curated some rules of responsible behavior online that I believe can be extremely helpful. Passwords are first on the list.

Any website that needs access to your personal information will ask for you to create a password. This is a great form of cyber safety that websites are requiring of users, but it is not enough just to have a password, your password must be strong enough as well. A weak password could easily lead to your account being hacked.

All Passwords Are Not Alike – Pick a Strong One

According to Microsoft Regional Director Troy Hunt’s website[6], at least 86% of passwords are considered “terrible,” meaning that they are either too short or not complicated enough. This is a problem because cybercriminals can try out millions of easily guessed or commonly used passwords using hacking programs developed by hackers.

If your password is considered “poor” or “terrible” by the website, then that means your password is probably at risk of being caught in one of these programs.

Best Practices for Choosing Passwords

  • Never use the same password for multiple websites. Doing this leaves you vulnerable to attacks because, as soon as an attacker has one password, they will then have the password to all of your other accounts.
  • Set up a formula to create new, stronger passwords. The formula could be as simple as the first letter on the thing to your left plus the color of your shirt plus a random from Siri. That could make each of your passwords different without making it overly complicated.
  • If you do not want to create your own formula, there are programs or applications that will randomly generate a password for you. The passwords are usually a mix of random numbers, letters, and characters, so be sure to write down what your password it. Sometimes the website itself will create a randomly generated password for you.

6. Cyber Safety Depends on Mindful Downloading

There are so many things that you may need to download from the Internet, whether it is a job application, homework assignment, or even a video game. I’m not saying that you should never download anything at all from the Internet, but there are ways to be safer as you download.

Don’t download anything from a website or provider that you don’t trust. If the website looks sketchy, you should not download anything from that site. You can tell a site is sketchy if:

  • You are instantly bombarded with ads
  • They ask that you turn off your adblocker
  • If your web browser tells you that this site poses a risk

Downloading things from untrustworthy websites opens your computer to ransomware attacks or malware because they are often disguised as harmless programs. Beware of phishing attacks since they can often lead users to malware downloads.

7. Cyber Safety Requires Careful Social Posting

This may seem obvious, but it may actually be harder than you think. Of course, you would never knowingly post your address, phone number, or social security number on your social media pages. However, you might want to participate in some of those question-and-answer games with your friends, and those are a bit risky.

The questions that you think are harmless such as what’s your favorite color or what was your high school could help an attacker answer your security questions. More than likely, these trends were created by a person who was trying to collect information from people on the Internet.

You should not be paranoid on the Internet; you just have to remember to be safe. Whenever you post online, you should think to yourself: could this information be used against me in any way? If the answer is yes, then you should not post it.

Likewise, if you are posting about your children, think about protecting their safety and their privacy when you do so.

8. Cyber security Relies on a Firewall

Just like cyber safety, there are some simple rules that you can follow to be cyber-secure. Rule one here is to install a firewall.

We’ve covered the definition of what a firewall is and what they do above. Having a firewall prevents attacks before they can reach your computer but restricting unnecessary outbound communications.

There are some device operating systems that actually include a firewall within their program. To ensure that the firewall will work properly, you must configure the firewall as specified in the device or system owner’s manual.

9. Cyber security Is Best When Software is Up-to-Date

When you use different software on your computer for whatever reason, developers often update the program from time to time to either add updates or fix problems. If you do not install these software patches, attackers can use these gaps in software patches to attack your system.

While many operating systems or software offer automatic updates, there are some that require you to manually update. If you have a program that requires mandatory updates, be sure that the message you receive about the update is from your software company and not a phishing email.

10. Cyber security Is Best With Multi-Factor Authentication.

A multi-factor authentication (MFA) refers to validating user identity. This method makes it harder for attackers to access your information because they must provide at least two pieces of proof of identity before they can access your account, computer, or information.

The best thing about MFAs is that a person must get each piece correct to get access to the information. Many websites, such as Google and Yahoo, have implemented multi-factor authentication involving your email, phone number, and security questions. Cyber attackers can usually exploit weak authentication processes, such as single-step authentication.

However, some hackers have found some ways around multi-factor authentications by sending phishing text messages or calling and safe they “will be sending you something.” What they are trying to do with these calls and texts is to get you to give them the answers to your MFA, so be sure not to give any information to anyone you don’t know.

Staying Safe Online

As we’ve all learned, the Internet can be a dangerous place if you aren’t taking steps to protect yourself (with cyber safety steps) and your system (with cyber security). If you stay informed and follow some simple rules, you can ensure that your information remains safe.


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