October is Cyber Security Awareness Month – how secure are you?

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An expert in London, Ont., says some of the most effective online safety measures are among the simplest.

Technology experts, law enforcement agencies and the federal government are asking Canadians to consider their cyber safety this month.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, also known as Cyber Month, an internationally recognized campaign held each year to educate the public on being vigilant about security. In Canada, Cyber Month focuses on helping Canadians protect themselves in a fast-changing digital world.

A London, Ont., technology analyst believes education, based on cyber security, is essential in today’s technology-dependent world.

“I think most people have their heads in the sand when it comes to digital security. They think none of this applies to them. They don’t think they’re rich or famous enough to be targeted,” said Carmi Levy.

He said almost all Canadians are potentially valuable, lucrative targets for cyber criminals. 

A report by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) highlights the vulnerability of Canadians when it comes to cyber-based fraud. The report indicates a shift in tactics used to target people, with scams perpetrated online rising 87 per cent since 2015.

The report says 55 per cent of more than 300,000 scams reported to the BBB since 2015 were performed online, with 75 per cent of successful scams resulting in loss of money.

“Senior citizens are unfortunately a growing component of cyber security victims,” said Levy. “They simply don’t have the skills or they don’t have the years of experience to be able to tell when they are being targeted.”

This year’s education, as laid out by the federal Communications Security Establishment (CSE) focuses on phishing.

“It’s a socially engineered attack. A potential victim might get an email or a text message that looks like it comes from someone that they know or trust, or from their bank or their insurance company or the government, and they’re asked to click on a link or to press a button,” said Levy.

By the time a person does something as simple as clicking on a link, it may be too late. Hackers and scammers often look for what Levy calls “the weakest link,” the moment where one isn’t paying attention or when one may panic as a result of text messages that falsely claim bank fraud or security breaches.

Other common methods criminals use to steal money, data or information using technology include:

  • Online purchase scams: Fake online stores or transactions are posted
  • Cryptocurrency scams. Fake cryptocurrency trades and transfers are facilitated
  • Public Wi-Fi networks: As Levy explains, they’re notoriously insecure and can be easily accessed by cyber criminals
  • Ransomware attacks: Malware is installed to a computer, allowing a criminal to lock and hold personal or business data and information for ransom.
  • Phone scams: Include phishing attempts in which callers masquerade as tech support professionals and deceive victims into allowing a remote connection into their computer

Locking down your security

Levy said steps can be taken to stay safe in the online world, and the most effective measures are some of the simplest.

“The first thing we need to do? Just tighten up our use of passwords.”

Passwords should be complex and unpredictable. Using birthdays, names of pets or loved ones, and addresses in passwords is actively helpful for those attempting to breach online accounts. Levy mentions special characters such as exclamation marks, random strings of letters and numbers, and length as key components of a secure password

Levy also said the average person has much more control over their cyber security than they realize.

“Security is everybody’s responsibility and we cannot rely on the police to protect us from cyber events when they happen. We have to do more to stop them from happening in the first place.”

Methods of improving safety and security include simple changes like:

  • Double checking and tweaking social media privacy settings.
  • Unsubscribing from e-mails and accounts that are no longer used.
  • Deleting unused apps.
  • Avoiding public Wi-Fi networks by using a VPN or mobile hotspot.
  • Recycling electronics rather than throwing them away.
  • Operating under the assumption that anyone can be a target.

For those willing to go above and beyond for their security, Levy has some homework.

“One of the things that we need to do is become familiar with the settings of all of the apps, and services and websites that we use. We can go into the settings that are security features there like 2-factor or multi-factor authentication, or encryption that are there for the taking,” he said. 

“We just have to become familiar with the settings, go into them, turn them on, learn how they work, because that too can make us a lot more secure when we go online.”

This article was originally sourced from www.cbcnews.ca