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October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and for 2020, the federal government’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is urging Canadians to learn all they can about protecting their digital devices.

Device security is a matter of growing importance, as computers, tablets, smartphones and smartwatches proliferate in more Canadians' lives. In theory, the greater the number of devices you have, the greater your vulnerability to security breaches; however, you can take protective action.

IT solutions and services provider CDW Canada recently conducted a survey of 1,500 working Canadians to assess their awareness of cybersecurity threats in their daily lives and to learn how diligent they are about reducing risks.

“Understanding how to protect digital devices is particularly relevant now, as more Canadians work remotely in the wake of the pandemic,” says Theo van Wyk, head of solution development & cybersecurity for CDW Canada.

“A lot of security measures can be wrapped around users working in an office. Now that we’re accelerating the push of the corporate world into home environments, it means we’re relying on employees to think more about security, in essence, to be good digital citizens.”

The survey asked respondents how seriously they take the threats to their computer, network, phone and other smart devices, and according to Mr. van Wyk, there were some encouraging results. One such finding: most surveyed said they believe it’s important to protect both the data and privacy settings on their devices. On the other hand, not everyone is regularly acting on that belief.

“Nearly half of respondents indicated that remote working hasn’t affected how they prioritize device protection and security, which is concerning, given growing security threats,” he says.

Understanding how to protect digital devices is particularly relevant now, as more Canadians work remotely in the wake of the pandemic.

Theo van Wyk, Head of solution development & cybersecurity for CDW Canada

The survey also found some inconsistencies, he adds. “A lot of people are using passwords, but they readily share them with others or don’t secure them. Some are diligent about protecting their phones and laptops, while being lax about their smart devices.”

Of the Canadians who admitted to rarely or never updating their device security, 20 per cent believe that the process is unnecessary because they have never experienced a breach. That is discouraging to see, says Mr. van Wyk, given that cybercriminals are continually coming up with new ways to hack our devices to gain access to our data or credentials or by installing malware and demanding payment to restore files.

“With the pandemic, many of us are experiencing more stress and feeling distracted, which means we may be less careful and fall into a trap set by a hacker.”

Mr. van Wyk advises remote workers to take simple steps to maximize device security, including the following:

  • Use multi-factor authentication for signing into devices. This means setting up additional ways beyond passwords and usernames to confirm your identity (e.g. facial recognition or receiving a PIN on your phone when logging into your bank online).
  • Avoid re-using passwords. Create passwords or passcodes that are unique and easy for you to remember but still complex, and consider using password managers whenever possible.
  • Don’t share passwords for devices holding sensitive data.
  • Set up separate home Wi-Fi networks for your personal devices, like laptops and phones, and for your smart devices, such as virtual assistants and smart speakers.
  • If you believe your credentials are compromised, log into what you know is the official site and change passwords there.
  • Don’t panic when you’re sent a questionable link or attachment: Pause and assess before clicking. When in doubt, call the sender directly to validate any requests for information.

CDW Canada’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month Survey

Despite the increased prevalence of data breaches, 21% of respondents said they rarely or never review their device security and privacy settings.

68% reported using passcodes or passphrases to protect their smart devices.

21% said they aren’t sure if they are using passcodes or phrases on their smart devices.

11% review device protection and privacy settings on a more regular basis as a result of working from home.

63% said their main cybersecurity concerns relate to data leakage, identity theft and/or hackers.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.