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How to avoid getting hacked online
The Internet is transforming how we work and play, but its benefits can come with a steep price tag. Cyberspace is fertile ground for organized crime, spies and terrorists. Finding ways to protect our personal information online is a top priority for governments and policing agencies around the world.
Adam D., a biochemist in Winnipeg, can’t be certain where his computer was hacked into last year, but he does know why: at some point, he plugged into an unsecured wireless connection. It could have been at an airport lounge or a coffee house, or even through his home wireless system, which he sheepishly admits was not protected by a password.
Everyone in his address book received emails, seemingly from him, saying he had been mugged in London, England, and needed a quick loan of $1000 to tide him over while he got his passport reissued by the Canadian High Commission.
It took Adam a few days to get back control over his email system, and he still worries that the hacker accessed some of his financial information. “I now think very carefully about how and where I ‘plug in,’ and my home system is definitely password-protected.”
Be cyber safe
Awareness is the key to protecting yourself in cyberspace. Visit the website Get Cyber Safe for pointers on how to keep yourself safe online from scams, hackers, viruses and much more.
Adam’s case is not uncommon, says Robert Dick, Director General of the National Cyber Security Directorate at Public Safety Canada. It’s one of many frauds floating around the Internet, most of which are cyber versions of the old letter scams.
“Criminals are just taking advantage of the latest technology to advance their nefarious objectives,” he says. And it really works for them. A 2008 Decima study found that one in 10 Internet users in Canada has been a victim of identity theft.
Obviously, staying safe online is a big challenge, and it’s getting bigger every day. According to Statistics Canada’s 2010 Canadian Internet Use Survey, 80 percent of Canadians over the age of 16 now use the Internet for activities ranging from e-commerce to social networking.
At the same time, just about every part of our infrastructure — from banking to power plants — has an online component. This offers new opportunities not only for criminals intent on making money, but also for espionage and terrorist activities.
Coordinating Canada’s response to cyber crime
“We are seeing more and more cyber crime every year,” says David Black, who manages the RCMP’s Cyber Crime Fusion Centre in Ottawa, which was announced by Public Safety Canada in October 2010 as part of Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy.
What to do if you’ve been hacked
A crime committed through your computer is the same as someone breaking into your house, so call your local police to report it. And if you think you are a victim of online fraud, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
As Black describes it, the Centre, which is linked to technological crime units across the country and counterparts in other countries, coordinates the response to incoming information from sources such as Interpol and private sector communities. It is also tasked with reporting annually, from a policing perspective, on the threat, extent and economic impact of cyber crime in Canada.
Crimes such as hacking, commercial fraud, theft of intellectual property and holding websites hostage for ransom are all priorities for the Centre. “The challenge is the expanding scope of cyber crime,” Black says. “For example, we’re now seeing smart phones being used to organize riots and theft rings. We’re seeing technology being used in ways we couldn’t even imagine five years ago.”
Another preoccupation for the Centre is protecting against attacks on Canada’s critical infrastructure, such as the control systems that run hydro generating stations. As Black recounts, “we have seen evidence of such attacks in other countries and have equal concern that the same could happen in Canada. If the lights go out, we would be called to investigate who did what, where, when.”
Keeping science safe at NRC
As one of Canada’s leading research organizations, NRC has sensitive, top secret and proprietary science on its computers — science that has taken much intellectual effort, time and resources to produce.
How does NRC keep its science safe?
Expanding the cyber crime discussion
Keeping pace with the latest cyber scam or newest criminal malware, and monitoring websites, blogs and other online sources for unusual activity, are all part of the Centre’s role. Black sees an opportunity to work with industry and with academic and research communities to help fight cyber crime. “We recognize the need for more research on forensics techniques for emerging technology to help us sift through cyber crime evidence and peer-reviewed studies that provide precise profiling to help us track cyber criminals and hackers.”
Robert Dick concurs. The National Cyber Security Directorate at Public Safety Canada is working on research projects with universities in order to build relationships with academics across a range of disciplines focusing on cyber security. The research is currently looking at social and economic implications, legal and legislative systems to secure cyber space, and the tensions between security and privacy online.
On the home front, according to Dick, Canadians need to arm themselves with a better understanding of the risks that exist online and how to interact in this sphere, whether it be for email, social networking, gaming or financial transactions. They also need to be prudent and use common sense when they are online.
An uncrackable random number generator?
New NRC research could improve the future security of electronic communications and transactions. See: Diamond quantum number generator: a gem for secure encryption.
“Technologically,” Dick says, “it’s about doing the real basics: it’s changing your password, it’s having a password on your firewall, it’s having a firewall, and it’s keeping your anti-virus protection up to date.”
“The biggest myth about cyber security is that it’s too hard and too complex for the average Canadian to take steps to protect themselves online,” he adds. “The reality is that a lot of harm can be prevented just by following a few basic steps.”
ISSN 1927-0275 = Dimensions (Ottawa. Online)