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It’s getting harder to victimize Canadians online, but study still finds weak spots

Millenials are more tech savvy, but overall, less concerned about protecting themselves online, a government study has found.
Millenials are more tech savvy, but overall, less concerned about protecting themselves online, a government study has found. In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Canadians are typically well-informed and cautious when it comes to cyber-security, a new government survey has found, but there is still room for improvement in certain areas like password protection and securing devices like smart TVs and watches.

The results of the survey, conducted by Ekos Research Associates Inc. and submitted to Public Safety Canada in March, were made public this week. The document came at a cost of $77,750, including HST.

It reveals that in an era where the average Canadian spends more than six hours a day online, the vast majority of us are very concerned (49 per cent), or moderately concerned (35 per cent), about our personal information falling into the wrong hands on the web.

Just one per cent of the survey’s 2,027 respondents said they weren’t worried at all.

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Perhaps as a result of those concerns, almost all Canadians (90 per cent or more) report being aware of how they can protect themselves online. Those strategies include not sharing passwords, using anti-virus software and keeping it updated, and limiting personal information shared online.

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“Nine in 10 are already aware that they should not open emails from people they do not know, that they should only do banking on a computer they know is safe, and that they should be selective in the sites they use for online shopping,” said an executive summary of the report.

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There are still weak spots that hackers can exploit, however. While respondents were aware of  how to protect themselves, fewer and fewer of us are actually employing those strategies.

Fewer Canadians report only downloading from trusted sources compared to just a few years ago (72 per cent in 2016, compared with 78 per cent in 2011). The number of people keeping security software up to date also fell, as did the number using caution when responding to solicitation from strangers, or verifying the source before clicking a link.

Meanwhile, roughly a third of Canadians never change their online passwords, or do so only every few years, for online and banking accounts as well as email and social media.

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When it comes to the types of devices people believe are vulnerable, things get even more complicated. Virtually all respondents were aware that their laptop or computer can be affected by an online threat, and eight in 10 were aware of cyber-security threats to smartphones or tablets.

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Canadians are less informed, however, when it comes to awareness of possible risks to a smart-home device (64 per cent said these devices are vulnerable), smart televisions (55 per cent), or wearable tech like smartwatches or fitbits (49 per cent).

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The survey also asked about actual victimization, and found a mixed bag of good and bad news. The number of people reporting that they were a victim of a virus, spyware, or malware attack plummeted from 59 per cent in 2011, to 37 per cent in 2016.

But identity theft is still on the rise (5 per cent experienced it in 2016, up from 2 per cent in 2011), as is financial loss as a result of online activity (12 per cent, up from 6 per cent).

Parents can’t keep up

The survey found that millenials are more tech savvy than older Canadians and more active online, but they’re also less concerned about security, and less likely to seek out information or advice on how to protect themselves online.

Parents of older children and teens in Canada are still struggling to stay informed about the bevy of new apps, games and other technologies being used by young people, the survey reveals.

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One in three agreed that they simply cannot keep up, and about half say that they are concerned for their children’s privacy and also about cyber-bullying and online harassment.

“Just over half of parents (54 per cent) agree that they have the information they need to navigate their child’s online world,” the survey found.