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The number of Atlantic Canadians working from home increased dramatically during the pandemic. With that came an increased reliance on the Internet and a surge in online business.
A shift in online habits resulted in the growth of a wide range of activities, as well as an increased reliance on social media as a key channel of communication and information gathering.
But these changing habits also resulted in increased opportunities for cybercriminals and a sharp growth in cybercrime. In fact, 2021 represented an historic year for financial losses reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, with $379 million being lost to scams and frauds, a 130 per cent increase compared to 2020.
Our recent survey results showed that four in 10 Atlantic Canadians have been a victim of online fraud whereby they were asked for personal information or money by someone pretending to be a legitimate representative of an organization. One-third (34 per cent) have had an online account hacked or accessed by someone without authorization, and three in 10 (28 per cent) have had personal information released owing to an organization’s data breach. Altogether, close to two-thirds of Atlantic Canadians (64 per cent) have experienced at least one of the three.
In July, Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest health authority notified close to 40,000 people that their privacy was breached as a result of a cyberattack last fall. Such attacks have been experienced by retailers, car dealerships and other companies in our region.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, three in four businesses depend on their website in order to operate, and one in five small businesses have been affected by a cyberattack or data breach. That’s a serious consideration for businesses and consumers.
Despite this, our latest survey of more than 1,500 Atlantic Canadians showed that most (64 per cent) are confident that they know how to keep their personal information secure in online spaces despite so many having experienced fraud. Only three in 10 are not confident, although confidence levels decrease with age.
Those we surveyed have varying levels of confidence in service providers’ abilities to protect our personal information from online security breaches, depending on the type of organization. Atlantic Canadians most trust financial institutions, followed by the government, to keep their personal information safe online but have limited trust in retailers or social media platforms.
Our results also show that confidence varies across the region, with residents in Newfoundland and Labrador being less confident than those in other Atlantic provinces in the abilities of financial institutions, governments and retailers to protect them, perhaps a direct reflection of the health-care information breach.
For businesses, dedicating an appropriate budget to cybersecurity is key, as is ensuring ongoing efforts to protect any data collected. Ongoing training through an expert IT organization is one way to ensure employees are continually reminded of possible threats. A cyberattack is not just inconvenient and expensive, it can pose a very serious threat to an organization. For companies selling products through e-commerce or maintaining electronic data of their customers, a systems breach or cyberattack can be devastating. Businesses need to continue to focus on what measures are needed to keep their data and their customers’ information safe.
Despite all the ways the internet can help us, as consumers we need to be ever vigilant to protect ourselves online. There are some basic steps to easily protect yourself, like two-factor authentication, learning to recognize scams and threats, not sharing personal information, understanding how organizations protect your personal information, credit monitoring, avoiding reusing passwords across multiple websites or services, and avoiding doing sensitive work or financial transactions on public internet connections.
Results discussed are from a random telephone survey with 1,500 Atlantic Canadians 18 or older, conducted between Aug. 3-31. Results are accurate to within +/-2.5 percentage points, 19 out of 20 times.
Margaret Brigley, CEO, and Margaret Chapman, COO, are business partners at Narrative Research, a national, non-partisan, market research company based in Halifax.
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