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In Canada and around the world, cyber crimes have spiked as fraudsters use the pandemic to take advantage of people’s insecurities.
Canadians have questions about how they can protect themselves, their families and their information. RBC’s Chief Information Security Officer, Adam Evans, answers some of the pressing cyber security questions top of mind today.
Q: How are fraudsters using COVID to trick Canadians?
Cyber criminals aren’t doing anything revolutionary in terms of COVID, explains Evans. “What they are doing is leveraging COVID-19 as a world event to increase the likelihood of clicking a link or downloading an attachment because they want to know more about infections in the community, vaccine trials, that sort of thing. Criminals will prey on those insecurities, using anxiety to increase the likelihood of interacting with a target.”
Q: What scams or threats have emerged out of the introduction of government programs?
The Canada Emergency Relief Benefit has been a popular target for cyber criminals. “Within two weeks of CERB going live, we saw cyber criminals selling fraudulent cheques in underground marketplaces,” says Evans.
Criminals purchase a digital cheque file and add their own names. They will then deposit that cheque via a Mobile app (with mobile cheque deposits, fraudsters don’t need to face a live person and produce ID). Canada’s banking system is working closely with the government to counter scams like this, but fraudsters are usually quick to jump on new opportunities.
Q: Why are phishing scams so effective — today more than ever?
Phishing scams generally work well because they tap into people’s concerns and insecurities. And this is a time when insecurity is at an all-time high. Evans explains that during the COVID-19 pandemic, phishing tactics are particularly effective because people are actively looking for information and answers. Should they receive an email or text that promises a health update or news of a vaccine, people are most apt today to click a link that may lead to a phishing attack.
Q: Why is it important that Canadians update their passwords?
Evans explains that a security breach at one site puts your login information in the hands of criminals. By using the same username and password for all of your accounts, you’re giving the criminal access to the personal information you have stored at any other site where you’ve used the same credentials.
Creating a unique and hard-to-guess password by using a combination of numbers, letters and symbols will produce a stronger result. And regularly updating your passwords can keep you a step ahead of hackers.
Q: What can parents do to educate their children about their digital footprint?
As children spend more and more time online — through schooling, sites such as YouTube, Netflix, and apps such as TikTok and Instagram — they are creating an online footprint and online persona.
Evans explains: “As a result, parents need to be far more protective in how their kids are interacting online. For teens, they need to understand the concept of a digital identity — that once something is out there, you can’t get it back. This information will follow them wherever they go. When it comes to children, a more protective stance is needed. Parents have to think about how they want to educate and intervene in their children’s lives in this particular aspect.”
Recognizing that parents may not necessarily have the skills or knowledge to impart on the next generation, Evans emphasizes the need for education among both parents and kids. “We have to take a proactive role in understanding what the threat landscape is, and how to protect kids and families,” he advises parents.
Q: What are the dangers of social media that all Canadians should be aware of?
“People need to understand that social media is the environment where threat actors go to create profiles on people,” warns Evans. So if you’re posting your vacation updates, information about your children’s graduation, birthday wishes and pet pics, cyber criminals are gathering all of this information that can help them create scams and communications that look like they are coming from a trustworthy source.
Q: How are seniors coping with an increasingly online existence?
Evans admits that seniors are actually less vulnerable to scams at this time than younger generations. “Seniors tend to be hyper-paranoid,” he says, “because they don’t necessarily have the knowledge of transacting online.” Younger generations are more focused on convenience, so they are the ones less likely to take the right precautions. “Because they are too comfortable with technology, they aren’t necessarily aware of the risks when they’re using it,” he says of younger Canadians.
Q: For work-from-home employees, what can they do to protect both their personal information and the sensitive information of their company?
“Because of the COVID-19 crisis, you have some new business challenges we haven’t had to deal with before — the first one being the rapid adoption of technology and digitization of the business in a very compressed time-frame. We have moved an on-premise workforce off-premise,” Evans says. As such, new technology and new ways of operating today — such as printing from home and moving business data around through outside networks — come with new challenges from privacy and regulatory standpoints.
“The threat of a cyber event on top of this crisis is quite a big concern, as the velocity of how we got here has been very, very compressed,” Evans warns.
Being aware of the risks you’re taking with data and knowing what to do if you suspect your device or account has been breached are the best ways to be prepared. If your organization hasn’t provided education around these areas, it’s a good idea to seek training and guidance so that you know how to respond should you be a target of a cyber attack.
Evans recognizes that Canadians know that threatens are out there, but there isn’t a strong understanding of how scams work and what makes us most vulnerable. “Education needs to be the focus right now,” urges Evans.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.