BYU devotional: Bonnie Anderson says principles of cyber security inform spiritual safety

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Natalie Bothwell
Bonnie Brinton Anderson, of the Marriott School of Management, addressed students at devotional on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Anderson spoke of the principles of online safety and how they can apply to spiritual safety as well (Natalie Bothwell).

Professor Bonnie Brinton Anderson, of BYU’s Marriott School of Management, spoke in devotional on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015 about how students can practice principles of cyber security to help them stay safe online and in their spiritual lives.

As a professor in BYU’s information systems department, Anderson has researched “what is going on in people’s brains when they are interacting with security messages,” she said.

Anderson and her research team have discovered that “when computer users are exposed to a security message more than once, on the second (and any following) repetitions, the brain saves energy by relying on memory,” rather than processing the information each time it sees the message afterward, she said.

She showed a 3-D printed model of her brain and pointed out that the occipital lobe in the back shows a decreased response as these responses to messages are repeated.

Anderson compared this desensitization to how people sometimes disregard the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

“If we don’t act on the promptings of the Holy Ghost, it can be harder for us to be aware of future promptings,” Anderson said. “We might even tune out the still small voice.”

She explained the importance of listening to and acting on these promptings.

“Obedience can help bring protection, blessings and insights,” Anderson said.

Recognizing phishing

Anderson said emails from banks and companies people subscribe to or buy from can trick them into giving information and money to hackers. Most people don’t notice the “fishy” parts of emails, but they can follow certain steps to avoid being phished.

Such steps include not clicking on links in email messages, typing addresses directly into a browser, using personal bookmarks, checking the site’s security certificate before entering personal information into a website, not entering personal or financial information into pop-up windows, and checking the source of the information.

She related the phishing experience to facing counterfeit happiness in the world. She said Satan counterfeits pride for self-worth, or leisure and ease for fulfillment.

“The truth is that we are far more content when laboring daily in a cause we believe to be important enough to spend our entire lives on,” Anderson said.

She explained how to find happiness that is not artificial.

“Real joy and happiness come from living in such a way that our Heavenly Father will be pleased with us,” Anderson said.

Installing software updates

Anderson said that not installing software updates can open up holes for malicious software to enter computer systems.

“Virus writers, hackers and other ill-intentioned individuals are constantly coming up with new and inventive ways to attack,” Anderson said.

But staying up-to-date with software updates provides safety to computer users. Along with software updates, staying up-to-date with temple recommends can also bring people safety.

“We can commit now to keeping ourselves safe from spiritual attacks by living so as to be able to keep a current temple recommend,” Anderson said.

Backing up files

Anderson explained a “devious new type of computer attack” — ransomware. Things such as Cryptolocker install programs through an email attachment that encrypt computer users’ files. Users need to pay a “ransom” to decrypt files.

“Some victims have indicated that even after paying the ransom, they were still unable to recover their data,” Anderson said.

Accidentally deleting files or hardware failing can also lose files. Anderson suggested users keep backups “in three places: the place where you work on them, on a separate storage device and off-site.”

“In a way, computer backups can be compared to keeping a journal,” Anderson said.

She gave the examples of President Thomas S. Monson and Elder Henry B. Eyring to show how journal writing can strengthen personal lives and relationships with God.

She quoted Elder Eyring when she spoke of the benefits of remembering to be grateful.

“My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness,” Eyring said. “It will build our testimonies.”

Anderson said people who take time to recognize things they are grateful for are happier, healthier and smarter.

Creating stronger passwords

Insecure passwords can lead to hacking and identity theft, but using different passwords for each account can fight against hackers who compare lists of passwords from hacked websites with passwords and accounts on other sites.

Anderson suggested people use unique passwords with numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Rhymes or phrases can also help because they take longer to type and aren’t common.

She also suggested people use password managers, such as LastPass, 1Password or Roboform to help them keep track of their passwords.

Anderson applied this security measure to spiritual safety.

“Sometimes we may find ourselves with casual short prayers that are essentially the same day after day,” Anderson said. “But we are spiritually safer when we take the time to have sincere prayer — long, complicated prayers. While simple prayers are a good thing, we need to periodically truly communicate with our Father in Heaven.”

Feeling incapable or overwhelmed

Anderson said if people don’t feel like they can do everything it takes to be safe (either online or spiritually), there’s still an answer.

“That’s where the Atonement brings us peace,” Anderson said. “Far better than a password manager, the Atonement makes up for our shortcomings. We receive the blessings of the Atonement when we repent of our sins and keep the commandments.”

Anderson quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell when he said, “If we will keep our covenants, the covenants will keep us spiritually safe.”

She said people should be sure to build their spiritual foundation on “the rock of our Redeemer.”

“Through obedience, we can find happiness, safety and peace,” Anderson said.

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