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COLUMN: Cyber attacks are devastating, but preventable

There are some very simple things we can do to protect ourselves online, says DPD Chief Neil Dubord
DPD Chief Constable Neil Dubord. (Delta Police Department photo)

By Neil Dubord, Delta Police Department

Did you do a lot of your Christmas shopping online? Do you bank online? Is the thought of losing your smartphone anxiety-inducing due to the fact that your entire life is connected to that device in some way? Your calendar, your contacts, your family photos, your coffee app, your flight information, and on and on.

And though technology has changed the way we do many things for the better, this dependency puts us at an ever-growing risk of being victimized by cybercriminals.

While cybercrime is not nearly as prevalent as other reported crime types such as theft from autos, this area of criminal activity is growing exponentially, and has the capacity to devastate people’s lives and hold governments and businesses hostage.

The term “cybercrime” is used to define crime that either uses technology to victimize people, or attacks the technology itself to commit a crime.

Using technology to commit fraud, exploit children, launder money or steal identities are crimes that the police are responsible for investigating. Cybercrime can be dealt with at the local, provincial and federal policing level depending on what has happened, where the suspect(s) is working from and who has been victimized. This is the type of work, although very challenging, is something police plan for, train for and respond to.

But the second element of cybercrime can render the police themselves victims. And it’s not just the police — targets include other government institutions or private businesses. In these types of cybercrimes the technology is the target, and once a hacker is through, he or she can wreak total havoc with highly sensitive or critical information.

Ransomware, “denial of service” attacks, malware and attacks on critical infrastructure are just a few of the major security issues organizations like the Delta Police Department face on a daily basis. Our firewalls work around the clock to keep out would-be hackers attempting to get to our data, and that’s why we regularly update our security processes.

These attacks can render an organization inoperable — whether it be a local government, a police department or a health authority. A ransomware attack can take control of all an organization’s data, and that data is only released by giving in to the demands of the hackers.

Two-thirds of all cyber-attacks in the U.S. in 2019 targeted the government, and local governments are most at risk. Hackers demand millions of dollars and do not negotiate. And if an organization, desperate to get control of their data, pays the hackers, the more prevalent the crime will become — and the more money criminals will demand.

While I have painted a gloomy picture of cybercrime and technology related crimes, it is important to note that we can all do some very simple things to protect ourselves, both at home and at work. It is boring and you have heard it before, but it is critical to your online security:

• Do not click on links or open attachments you aren’t expecting, or from a source you are unfamiliar with.

• Change your passwords often.

• Don’t give out personal information through insecure channels.

• Use caution even with password-protected Wi-Fi if you are doing anything with your personal information.

• If you receive email or correspondence from someone claiming to be from your financial institution, TV provider or the government (such as Canada Revenue Agency), don’t take what’s claimed at face value. Look up their number, pick up the phone and call them if any action — such as changing a password — is being requested.

• And, if you have been the victim of cybercrime, pick up the phone and call us.

But remember, the best way to protect yourself is to be cautious of your online activity.

Neil Dubord is the chief constable of the Delta Police Department.

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