Protecting Yourself from Cybercrime

By JoAnne Sommers

YourMoneyWe Canadians sure love our mobile devices. Since the end of 2012, the percentage of Canadian adults who use a smartphone has nearly doubled to 56 per cent, according to a recent Google survey. At present, there are over 26 million mobile phones in this country for a population of about 35 million people.

The Google survey found that more than one-third of us would rather get rid of our televisions than part with our smartphones. And eight out of 10 smartphone owners surveyed said they don’t leave home without their mobile devices.

Yet most Canadians fail to take even the most elementary steps to protect the wealth of sensitive information – pictures, texts, emails, work files and banking information – stored on these devices.

Only 25 per cent of Canada’s smartphone users have basic free security software and 60 per cent of mobile users don’t know that security programs for their smartphones and tablets exist, according to the 2013 Norton Cybercrime Report from Symantec, a U.S.-based software security maker.

That ignorance exacts a steep price. According to the Norton report, cybercrime is on the rise in Canada: its cost more than doubled from $1.44 billion to $3.09 billion between 2012 and 2013. The report also estimated that seven million people in Canada have been victims of cybercrime in the past 12 months at an average cost of about $380 per victim.

Today’s cyber-criminals are using more sophisticated methods, such as spear-phishing – an advanced form of phishing, where cyber-criminals target their victims by sending malicious links to their email – and ransomware – when a cyber-criminal gains access to your computer or smartphone and locks it, preventing you from accessing any of the information inside it.

These attacks yield more money per attack than ever before, says Stephen Trilling, Chief Technology Officer, Symantec.

Canadians are victims of all kinds of cybercrime on a daily basis, including online credit card scams, clicking on malicious links in their social networks, identity theft, and having their information stolen while using free Wi-Fi, says Symantec Canada’s Toronto-based Director of Consumer Solutions Lynn Hargrove.

Symantec has found that 60 per cent of Canadians use public or unsecure Wi-Fi, while 24 per cent do online banking on free Wi-Fi networks. « What people don’t realize is that there’s no security on those Wi-Fi networks for the most part, » says Hargrove.

Canadians are guilty of a host of other cyber sins, she adds. Only 56 per cent of smartphone users delete suspicious emails from people they don’t know and just 46 per cent avoid storing sensitive files online. Forty-two per cent fail to log off after each social media session while another 28 per cent share their social media passwords with others.

“Everyone wants the ability to be connected anywhere, anytime, but it comes with a risk,” says Hargrove, noting that the consequences can entail, “anything from obvious financial losses, like money out of your credit card or bank account, to lost income, to the cost of getting your information back.”

The two biggest challenges for Canadians are making sure to use a sufficiently complex password for their mobile phones and tablets and ensuring that they have robust security software installed on their devices, she says.

Hargrove offers the following tips to protect against cybercrime:

  • Always password protect your smartphone and tablet.

Don’t use things like your birthday or anniversary date, which can easily be found online through your public profile, says Hargrove. “Create complex passwords that include a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, and change your passwords regularly. Use different usernames and passwords for each online account so if one account is compromised, cyber-criminals won’t be able to gain access to other online accounts with the same username and password.”

  • Never shop or do your banking online while using a free Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop or elsewhere.

When banking and shopping, make sure the website is security enabled. Web addresses with “https://” or “shttp://” mean the site has taken extra measures to help secure your information. “http://” is not secure.

  • If in doubt, throw it out.

If an email, social network post or text message looks suspicious, delete it, even if you know the source.

  • Download security software on all your mobile devices.

Use a comprehensive security software suite and keep it up to date to avoid letting cyber-criminals onto your system in the first place, advises Hargrove. The suite should include anti-virus and anti-malware protection; online identity protection; network threat protection; browser protection; vulnerability protection; antiphishing technology; automatic updates; email and instant messaging (IM) monitoring; firewall; and spam blocking.

  • Check your credit card and bank statements regularly for fraudulent transactions.

“People who think their personal or financial information might have been accessed by a cyber-criminal should immediately change the user names and passwords for their online accounts and contact their bank and/or credit card company,” says Hargrove.

By taking these simple and affordable steps, you can save yourself a world of trouble – and probably a significant amount of money as well.