Imagine waking up to a notification that the password to your social media accounts had been changed by an unrecognized user.
That's what happened to Bradford resident Katy Fudge last year when someone hacked into both her Instagram and Facebook accounts.
“I woke up in the middle of the night to an email saying that a device that I didn't recognize had access to my Facebook account. After that, another email said that I had changed my password on Instagram," she explained. “Whoever it was that hacked my account had changed my email. All of the correspondence was being redirected to this new email. Everything that I was trying to do, unfortunately, was going to this hacker instead of back to me.”
She was only able to recover her accounts several days later through the Trusted Friends feature on Facebook. The feature had to get three of her closest friends to verify her account had been hacked in order to have it recovered. Since then, Fudge is more aware of cyber threats and takes extra precautions to keep her accounts and information safe.
“I set up two-step verification wherever it was possible. It just adds that extra layer of protection. I also use a VPN and just take whatever other precautions I can," she said.
She says what she went through took an emotional toll on her, causing an abundance of stress. She encourages others to set up as many security precautions as they can on their accounts, to lessen their chances of getting hacked.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced much of society to convert their homes to offices and provide remote services wherever possible. With the increased number of Canadians working from their laptops and ordering items from their smartphones, cybersecurity has become a priority for consumers, employees and corporations.
With a need for heightened security online, one can opt to use virtual private network (VPN) services. A VPN is a tool designed to let users send or receive data to private networks through public networks. In other words, it makes your digital fingerprint more difficult to track.
In March 2020, the search on Google for the term “VPN” doubled and reached an all-time peak according to Google Trends. And as reported by data from NordVPN, one of the most well-known providers in the Western hemisphere, its worldwide business services grew 165 per cent. Canadian consumption, in particular, increased by 206 per cent.
Despite the uptick in searches for enhanced security measures, the number of cyber crime incidents grew 31 per cent compared to 2019. That means that over 63,000 Canadians were victims of cyber crimes in 2020.
In 2021, there were over 4,000 cyber attacks in Canada, costing home users about $518 million. Within those numbers, 5.7 per cent of Canadians had their personal, financial and social accounts hacked.
Individuals are not the only ones who suffer from these attacks. Companies and government agencies also saw a large number of ransomware attacks in 2021. Since the beginning of the pandemic, ransomware attacks increased 151 per cent in Canada, forcing companies to invest more in cybersecurity and improve online protocols.
Cyber-attacks affect many Canadian companies. According to the 2020 Cyberthreat Defense Report four out of five organizations experienced at least one successful cyber attack and more than one-third suffered six or more.
As the rate of cyber attacks continues to grow, cybersecurity advancements are growing just as quickly.
According to Bradford software engineer Brad Connolly, who has been in the industry for over five years, it’s hard to say who has the upper hand, cyber criminals or cybersecurity.
“People who are in cybersecurity are very smart and their networks are super robust. That being said, cyber criminals are also quite smart.” Connolly said. “Who has the edge depends on the scale of who you are talking to, and technically (the advantage) could go either way.”
But a VPN service is far from being the digital saviour against the malicious online activity. Phishing techniques are the most common way to begin a cyber attack or invasion.
Phishing is a technique where hackers trick victims into giving them sensitive information. That means the hacker doesn’t have to bypass firewalls or antivirus to get to your device. They just need to fool the victim – and no VPN or antivirus can save you from that if you’re not careful.
“You are untraceable in the sense that someone can't jump in and find out your IP address. But it doesn't mean you're completely invisible on the internet," warned Connolly.
According to Connolly, being safe online goes beyond specific services. It’s about being educated on how to safely navigate the web and be aware of techniques used to steal information. For example, frequent password changes, or the use of a password manager, can help keep hackers at bay. Everything from your router to your social media accounts should have their passwords changed from time to time – just in case, he says.
He also says to be cautious about what you click on and download online, as that’s how plenty of cyber criminals gain access to your files.