5 cyber smart resolutions for 2021

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2020 was a landmark year for online fraudsters. With the pandemic forcing us to stay at home, we are on our computers now more than ever before. This has opened us up not only to the possibility of scams and frauds but to disinformation, threats, and even instances of bullying. The following are five habits to add to your new year’s resolutions to keep your online communications safe, secure and productive:

  1. Resolve to keep learning

    Digital technology changes quickly and there’s more to learn every day. Always keep a step ahead by staying informed about new trends and increasing your digital literacy. There are so many free resources online that you can use to learn more. Here are some examples:

    • Websafe is a series of free courses specially designed by Norquest College for newcomers. You can learn anything from safe browsing to avoiding scams online. It uses videos, quizzes, and language activities to keep you engaged. The modules are good for CLB 4+ language level and are fun to complete.
    • The Government of Canada’s Get Cybersafe is also great site to learn more about safe online habits. Start by answering the Cyber Safe Checkup to see if you’re doing enough to keep yourself safe from online dangers.
  2. Create more secure passwords

    Did you know that it takes less than a second for hackers to crack easy passwords? If you’re still using “123456” for your accounts, it’s time to change it. The best passwords are easy to remember but hard for others to guess. Here are a few tips:

    • Use a good mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters (for example @, #, $ or !) to form a phrase that means something to you. For example: Your motto “aim high” can be turned it into “@im2021hiGh!” (or a longer variation) as password.
    • Longer passwords are harder to guess. If possible, make them with 15 characters or more.
    • Use different passwords for different accounts.
    • Consider multi-factor authentication – This is an extra step to the log-in process, adding another layer of security. It could come as a code via email or as a text message on your phone. You will need to key-in the code to access your account. Some sites use personal questions that the user sets up themselves. Examples are “who was your first bestfriend?” or “what’s the last name of your favourite teacher in highschool?” and other questions that only the user knows the answer to. Other sites or apps may use fingerprint technology, face scans, a token, or a smart card for multi-factor authentication.
    • Never save passwords on shared devices.

    How to Create a strong password, Safety in Canada

  3. Boost your netiquette

    Aside from scams, 2020 was a banner year for people losing their jobs, relationships, or credibility because of offensive or inappropriate (e.g. racist, homophobic, sexist, etc.) posts. This is a lesson that whatever we do online can have an enormous and very real impact on our lives. This is why netiquette is a necessary skill everyone should be practicing online. Here are some basic rules:

    • Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in real life.
    • Always use respectful language and remember that what you post online is forever.
    • Don’t share unverified information to prevent spreading fake news.
    • Respect other people’s privacy and original ideas.
    • Check you tone (as well as spelling and grammar) before you publish.
  4. Stop and think before acting

    Scammers can be persuasive. They can either promise something that’s hard to resist (like a good deal that’s available for a limited time only) or scare you into acting immediately (like threatening to send the police like in CRA scams). To counter this, always take social media information and offers with a grain of salt. Make it your resolution to verify first before doing anything that you may regret later.

    It’s also a good policy to validate or check information before sharing. A quick Google search can help you prevent a mistake that can ruin your reputation or harm others.

  5. Scrub your social

    Be vigilant about keeping your accounts secure. Make it a policy to check the privacy settings of your social media accounts and update them periodically. These sites update their apps and platforms from time to time and add features that can affect your account settings. This can lead to more exposure for you (for example your posts can become visible to the public instead of just among your friends), open up your personal information for collection by the app or to security breaches.

Sources:Get Cybersafe; 34 per cent of Canadians have fallen victim to fraud: survey, Bryan Borzykowski, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada; Netiquette, Instructional Resources CITL; How to create a strong password and remember it, Charlotte Empey, Avast blog. Accessed February 12, 2021.

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