cellphone with social icons

Across the globe, there are approximately 3.6 billion internet users and 1.8 billion websites.1 From an online traffic and functionality standpoint, this translates to about 5.5 billion searches per day (via Google alone), 269 billion emails sent per day and 40 billion e-commerce transactions per year worldwide.2 These are substantial numbers that illustrate the enormous growth of the digital world, and it’s an expansion that shows no signs of slowing down. For many individuals, more and more aspects of daily life now have digital components to them, but the challenge is trying to keep pace with the corresponding online safety measures. With ever-changing technologies, new devices and almost constant connectivity, staying informed on how best to protect yourself and your personal information is more imperative than ever — for every age group. Perhaps you’re the parent of a younger child just learning how to navigate online or of a teen using social media. Maybe you’re a young adult who’s grown up with the internet, or you’re an adult who uses online environments within both your professional and personal daily life. Possibly you’re a senior who has fully embraced digital functionality or who is continuing to gain familiarity with online tools and activities. Regardless of the life stage or experience category you fit into, developing a better understanding of cyber risks and impacts is crucial for everyone, as is taking the right steps towards helping to ensure online safety for you and your family in all areas of digital presence.

Note: The tips and guidance provided in this article are compiled from the Government of Canada’s Get Cyber Safe program. For more information or to find additional resources, please visit the Get Cyber Safe page.

Protecting against e-commerce risks

Whether your lifestyle is fast-paced and on-the-go, you have a busy household, you live farther from an urban centre or you simply don’t like crowded stores, online shopping is very appealing to many individuals because it’s convenient, easy and typically time-saving. It also provides a wealth of options right at your fingertips, as well as access to products that aren’t available locally. Given that e-commerce is such a strong and thriving trend, and you can now find most products and retailers online, this unfortunately also means it’s a rapidly growing target for online criminals and fraudsters. As such, it’s increasingly important for consumers to understand the range of risks to be aware of when it comes to e-commerce. This holds true especially when using credit or debit card information or another digital payment system, which are the top three forms of payment used by online shoppers.3

There are a variety of methods that online scammers try to use in the realm of e-commerce, main ones of which being mass marketing emails where they imitate legitimate retailers and promote deals and discounts or phishing emails, which try to obtain sensitive information by disguising as a trustworthy entity. For any promotional or unfamiliar email you receive, it’s best to avoid clicking on the link in the email, as this can download a virus or malware to your computer. Instead, visit the retailer’s official website to confirm whether the deal exists or contact the company independently to inquire about the email. And when it comes to the website itself, there are some signs that will indicate whether it is trustworthy or not. Some key red flags to look for include a website that’s poorly designed or that contains broken links; no business address or phone number listed; or sales, return and privacy policies that are hard to find on the site or are unclear.4

What to look for in mass marketing or phishing emails

  • Deals that seem too good to be true
  • Anything that asks for payment verification
  • Improper spelling or grammar
  • Generic greeting, such as “Dear customer” and generic signature at end of email
  • A sense of urgency or request for immediate response

hand holding creditcard

Online shopping safety tips

  • Ensure there is a lock icon or unbroken key in the bottom right corner of the webpage.
  • Check that the web address begins with https:// — the “s” stands for secure.
  • Never use public Wi-fi to shop online.
  • Locate and read the privacy policy on any site where you are shopping.
  • Don’t allow any personal information or passwords to be auto-filled.
  • Never allow a site to store your credit card information.
  • Review your credit card statements regularly to check for unauthorized charges.

Did you know?

Currently, Canada is one of the world’s top 10 e-commerce markets, and within the country, the e-commerce sector is expected to reach nearly $40 billion in value by the end of this year.5

In addition to e-commerce, seniors are unfortunately often a more vulnerable target for various forms of scams and fraud. To find out more, please view the RBC WM article, “How to protect seniors from financial abuse.”

Securing mobile and personal devices

It was in 2016 when, for the first time in history, mobile and tablet internet usage surpassed desktop internet usage worldwide.6 Specifically in Canada, desktops still remain the most common device for accessing the internet, but are closely followed by mobile devices. Despite the growing tendencies to use mobile devices, however, there is quite a gap between this increase in use and actual steps taken to protect them. According to the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, while Canadians generally take steps to protect their desktop computers from online threats, only 50 percent know of the risks to their other devices, such as smartphones, tablets and smart TVs.7

Connectivity is something that’s becoming more deeply rooted in the lives of many individuals, both personally and professionally, among youth and adults alike. But while mobile devices provide that convenience element and enable individuals to maintain access to online environments no matter where they are, they may introduce certain risks. As such, it becomes very important to assess the types of online activities you do on these devices and what risks you may be vulnerable to. Among Canadians, research indicates that over 80 percent are checking emails, using social networks or accessing online accounts from their mobile devices.8 If you carry out any of these activities on your mobile device, it’s crucial to take steps to protect it in the very same way you would protect your home computer.

chain and lock on top of keyboard

Wi-fi on-the-go safety tips

  • Use only password protected Wi-fi networks.
  • Never connect to unknown networks.
  • Turn off your device Wi-fi when not in use, so it doesn’t automatically connect to available networks.

Protecting your mobile device

  • Lock your mobile phone with a strong password or PIN and set it to auto-lock after a short period of time of non-use. This can protect your personal information if your phone is ever lost or stolen.
  • Check your mobile provider’s website regularly for operating system update information, and always act on verified operating system alert messages from your mobile provider.
  • Download apps and content only from reputable sites or sources you trust, and try to use only the official website or default source of the app for downloads.
  • Never open attachments or click on links from suspicious or unknown senders of text messages, even if they claim to be your cell provider.
  • Unless you need to use it, always set your mobile Bluetooth to hidden mode so hackers or strangers can’t connect to it, and avoid turning on your Bluetooth or making connections in public areas.

Understanding risks in cloud computing

In the grand scheme of the digital movement, cloud storage is relatively newer, and though many have a basic understanding of its uses, some individuals may not be fully aware of exactly how it works, where the data is stored and who manages and maintains the storage. Generally speaking, cloud storage is an online space that’s used to store all forms of data including documents, photos, music and videos that can then be accessed from any of your devices. Data is stored on remote servers that are owned and managed by a cloud storage service provider, and the data can be accessed from any location via the internet, or the “cloud.” This method of data storage is rapidly expanding, and it’s estimated that by 2020, about one-third of data will pass through the cloud.9 Many may view cloud computing as providing a convenient and streamlined method for storing data off of your actual device and making it accessible, but there are potential risks involved for users who don’t do their background research.

Tips for cloud storage safety

  • Because the servers are owned, maintained and managed by service providers, ensure you’re familiar with the service contract as it relates to cloud computing and online servers.
  • There is a potential that data could be stored in one or multiple foreign countries. Clarify which country or countries, as your data will be subject to the laws of that country or countries.
  • Familiarize yourself with the security practices and measures that the cloud service provider is using to ensure they are enabling the strongest and most current methods.

Safeguarding personal information on social media

Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest — these are just a handful of the social media and social networking sites that 20.1 million Canadians used in 2017.10 These types of sites and networks have become a leading way many individuals communicate with and stay in touch with relatives and friends and have truly shifted how many interact with one another. But while the number of users and number of social media and networking accounts people have continue to expand, these are often online spaces where many individuals let their guards down in relation to safety measures. Many also tend to share personal information, pictures and details about themselves more freely, but when this happens, it essentially opens the gateway for online hackers and criminals.

It may come as a surprise to some, but while seemingly harmless and often viewed as a fun time-passer, a common way hackers are gaining access to information is through social media quizzes and interactive posts, which are actually created by hackers in many cases. These types of quizzes and shareable posts typically ask a question or series of questions that encourage you to give up personal information, such as the street you grew up on, what school you went to, your former pet’s name or your first car. It’s no coincidence that these questions are typically also common security questions or forgotten password questions when you establish accounts or logins for other sensitive sites. Some of these quizzes also require you to follow a link to participate, which may take you to an unsecure site, or you often have to agree to some sort of permissions or allow the quiz application access to your profile and friends list.11 In doing any of these things, you immediately make yourself more vulnerable to identity theft, and you could potentially be freely giving out personal information that hackers can use to target you and your accounts.

Protecting your privacy on social media

  • Don’t accept friend or follow requests from people you don’t know, even if it looks like you may have friends in common.
  • Take the time to understand the privacy and security settings on social networking sites, and set controls to determine who sees what. The default settings often provide more access than what many would like, and you can typically adjust the settings to a much higher level.
  • Before posting any pictures or information, consider whether they give away too much information, and never include personal contact details on your profile page.
  • Avoid posting some fitness app information (like running routes) and upcoming vacation plans, and refrain from geotagging at places you go, as these all give away your whereabouts — as well as the fact that you’re not home in many cases, which may leave your home vulnerable.
  • Always log out at the end of every session, close your browser and clear your cache.

Changing your settings

If you have connected to any quiz apps or games through social media in the past, you can likely unlink them by modifying your settings on the site. While each social media website will differ in the steps required to turn off integration with applications, games or websites outside of the site you are connected to, generally speaking, all have a “settings” menu, which is typically easy to navigate through. Look for key words such as Apps and Websites within the settings menu, and edit accordingly to disable connection to the outside platform.

For more information on promoting internet safety among younger generations, please view the Spring 2016 RBC WM Perspectives article, “Online security is a family responsibility.”