The internet is a necessary tool that many Americans depend on every day for both professional and personal activities.

“At the Bank of Washington, we embrace technology,” said Louis B. “Buzz” Eckelkamp III, president.

“The information it is able to provide and the convenience it offers is advantageous to everyone,” he said. “We also know, however, that it can make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. That is why we are taking the opportunity to educate the community on how to better protect themselves.”

In recognition of the 15th annual National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the Bank of Washington offers the following tips to help consumers stay safe and secure online:

Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.

Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid birthdays, pet names and simple passwords like 12345.

Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.

Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov — and to the company, bank or organization impersonated in the email.

Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc.

Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know. Never give out your personal financial information in response to an unsolicited email, no matter how official it may seem.

Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.

Be careful in the cloud. While using the cloud makes it easier to store and share large amounts of files, understand that it also opens other avenues for attack.

Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.

Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects.

Sign up for an identity defense service. The Bank of Washington offers an industry-leading identity defense service called Identity Shield, which is designed to help secure, monitor and restore your personally identifiable information.

“Our identity defense service, Identity Shield, provides many benefits for customers,” stated Eckelkamp. “For me, personally, the largest benefit I see is that if something happens to your identity, you will have a one-on-one dedicated support specialist who helps you through discovering the problem, isolating the problem and working to help prevent future fraud and identity theft. Essentially, you are not alone if something happens.”

The Bank of Washington will run a campaign throughout the month of October to help bring awareness to these and other cyber safety tips. Visit www.bankofwashington.com/cybersecurity for information.