West Shore RCMP Aux. Const. Don Devenney is doing his best to educate the public on how to stay safe while surfing the web.
“I thought it would be a great community initiative to undertake in the West Shore,” says Devenney, an information technology analyst with Royal Roads University by day.
“I’ve noticed an increase in threats and complaints just in the time that I volunteer here. The more people know, the less likely they are to be victims of identity theft or spyware.”
The variety of online issues and threats are currently in the spotlight, with October being proclaimed National Cyber Security Awareness month.
Emails from unknown senders, unsecured WiFi and out-of-date anti-virus software are all well-known threats, but one of the biggest risks to your online security can be your passwords.
“Between your username and password, those are the two pieces of information used to confirm who you are,” Devenney says. If a username can be worked out, passwords can often be ‘socially engineered’ from social media pages, blogs and so on.
Devenney adds it’s vital that passwords aren’t easily guessed, meaning pets’ names, birthdays or anything that could be easily determined from social media or networking sites should be avoided.
“Let’s say you’ve got a Saint Bernard named ‘Fluffy,’ and you say on your Facebook page that it’s three years old,” he offers as an example. “(Hackers) go to your banking site and type in ‘Fluffy2011’ and bingo, they’re in.”
A lowercase password that’s six characters long takes only 10 minutes to crack for an experienced hacker, and if you happen to use the same password for all your logins, it can leave you wide open, he says.
“Not even counting banking sites, if you think about Facebook, email, LinkedIn – if your one password gets compromised, somebody’s going to wreak a lot of havoc in a short amount of time.”
One of the most effective solutions is to use a ‘passphrase’ instead of a password. A short, easily remembered phrase or sentence like ‘time for my coffee’ or ‘ham and pineapple pizza,’ peppered with the odd number or capital letter, and “you’ve got a password that’s nearly impossible to crack, and it’s easy to remember,” says Devenney.
Numbers can be used in place of letters, like in the above example, ‘time for my coffee’ becomes ‘T1me f0r my coffee,’ and if the program allows symbols, that makes it even more secure.
National Cyber Security Month also touches on physical barriers, such as firewalls and routers, keeping your anti-virus and operating systems up to date to prevent holes that hackers can sneak through, and backing up files on an external drive in the event of a fire or flood.
A presentation later this month will focus on general online safety principles and specifically target social media safety from both kids’ and parents’ perspectives. For more information visit www.bit.ly/1tikvU2, or call the Community Policing office at 250-391-3327.
10 Steps to increase Internet security:
1. Protect your identity by using different usernames and passwords for different accounts.
2. Turn on your firewall
3. Use anti-virus software
4. Block spyware attacks
5. Install the latest operating system updates
6. Back up your files on an external drive
7. Password-protect your WiFi
8. Delete emails from unknown senders
9. Surf safely: avoid sharing any personal information online and confirm sites are secure before making online purchases
10. Get expert help: call local police if you discover suspicious content online or if you suspect identity theft or a scam
– Files from the Government of Canada, getprepared.gc.ca