How to stay cybersafe in the new year

Cyber security experts say you should avoid oversharing and maintain strong passwords if you want to keep your online accounts and devices safe in the new year.

Ottawa police Sgt. James Ritchie said the evolution of online convenience over the last decade has contributed to an increase in fraud. 

"It provides the fraudsters anonymity and the ability to work across national and international boundaries," he said.

Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud research at Trend Micro, said the November to January period can be as busy for scammers as it is for consumers trying to find a deal.

"We know that starting at Black Friday there was about 60,000 active scams targeting all the top brands that you know and love," Nunnikhoven said.

"The best protection is really awareness."

Here are some tips from cyber security experts to be safe online and on your devices.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Protect your passwords

Christine Beauchamp, director of client engagement and incident detection for the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, said strong unique passwords are one of the best defences. 

She said you shouldn't recycle passwords to limit your exposure if someone does learn your password.

Beauchamp said your password should be at least 15 characters combining lower and uppercase letters along with special characters. She suggested using a "pass phrase" — a nonsensical sentence — to help you remember it. 

She said biometrics, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, and two-factor authentification — using an app or a text message when you log in — increases your protection.

"Think of the fact that you're applying security in layers," she said.

Nunnikhoven suggested using password management software so you can forget your passwords for different services.

"I don't know most of my online account passwords. I know my one password that unlocks the manager," he said.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Avoid oversharing

Beauchamp said one of the greatest risks people take with online accounts is oversharing — publicly revealing your location, address or date of birth in some places.

"Put together, the aggregate of that information could reveal quite a bit about you and that kind of information can be used against you for a number of malicious intents," she said.

Beauchamp said scammers could build a profile strong enough to steal your identity or to formulate a targeted attack — an email using your name and real world address — that appears legitimate and tricks you into giving more information.

Ritchie said Ottawa police are receiving more complaints of cellphone swapping scams, where a fraudster calls your cellphone provider to steal your phone number using information they may have been able to collect about you. 

"If someone takes over your cellphone they're able to take over all your accounts," Ritchie said.

He recommends contacting your cellphone provider to ensure you have strong identity protection on your account.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

New toys, old toys

Beauchamp said after you've set up a strong password for your new device  — whether it's a smart TV, digital assistant or new phone — the next best step is to go into the settings and manage what information it shares about you.

"Make them yours. Take off all the apps that you're not using. Turn off all the functionalities that you don't use, things like geolocation, " she said.

"If you don't need to constantly track where you are, turn that off. Same things with microphones, built-in cameras. You can get privacy shutters for your cameras."

Beauchamp said it's important to become aware of what kind of information your device may be recording about you.

She also said to make sure you erase old devices before disposing of them.

"Make sure that it's been set back to its factory settings," Beachamp said.