|Kevin Vadnais, a security analyst with the University of Lethbridge, gives a presentation on cyber safety as part of a parent-preschool program at the Hub building in Coaldale.
Herald photo by Ian Martens
Janelle Fyfe didn't know it would be so easy for someone to steal her identity.
The Coaldale mother thought she had a pretty safe online presence -most of her personal information was password-protected and her posts on social networking sites were shielded from public view - or so she thought.
But all it took was a bit of clicking around to uncover her name, phone number and address, as well as those of her husband and parents, and other personal details. Fortunately, that information wasn't used to steal her identity, only to illustrate a point.
"I was made aware of all of the information that can be found about me on the Internet, like through Facebook. And I thought my security settings on Facebook didn't allow other people to view my timeline and what not, but I guess not, so I need to change that," she said. "It's really quite scary."
Fyfe, the parent representative for a Coaldale Parent Preschool Program, invited Kevin Vadnais, a security analyst at the University of Lethbridge, to explain to her community group some of the hazards involved with navigating the web.
It's Vadnais' job to craft computer security programs, monitor for online threats, investigate and prevent breaches and teach people how to be smart online.
And this isn't the first time he's taken his expertise out into the community to help local parents keep their families safe online. He's now taught two Parent Preschool Program groups in Coaldale on the basics of anti-virus/anti-malware software, identity theft, privacy protection and suggestions for home computer setups.
"Every time I do one of these, people always come up to me and say, 'now I'm scared to turn on my computer,'" he said. "There's not a really good understanding of really where the threats lie, and so my job is to live in a world of paranoia and fear. It's really not that awful, but if people are aware of where the threats are coming from and can kind of prepare for how to deal with them before they show up, it's a lot easier to actually protect yourself."
With the recent rise of ransomware and Canada Post email scams, Vadnais said it's important that people know how to protect themselves while they're surfing the web.
His main advice?
"Be suspicious of things that just don't look right. It's our human nature to trust the things that show up in our email or on websites. We just assume that everything is legitimate and we need to just take a step back and really ask, does it make sense? Most of the time, these scams don't make sense. You probably don't have a dead relative in Nigeria that wants to give you $10 million," he said. "I would encourage people to be very comfortable, I guess, in addressing their technology questions to their Internet service providers, to experts in the field."
The elderly and the computer-illiterate aren't the only ones who can fall victim to scams, Vadnais said. It's actually those who think they're computer experts who are often the most vulnerable to cyber scams and identity theft.
"I'm actually finding the younger generation to be less cautious in their activities. At the university, we have consistently every month accounts that are compromised by students and/or staff that send their credentials to scammers that claim to be from the university asking for their password information. It happens every month, consistently, and you would think that with the tech nature of the demographics coming in that they wouldn't fall prey to that kind of stuff, but it's not turning out to be true."
Even professionals find it hard to stay ahead of hackers at times, he said.
"The cyber crime landscape is changing rapidly and it's very difficult to keep up with where the current threats lie."
But if you're in doubt, Vadnais said it's always better to ask questions first rather than try to recover your information and fix your computer later.
"It's easier to prevent a disaster than recover from one, and so this is really preventative information to let people be aware," he said.
Fyfe said Vadnais' presentation was "eye-opening" and she encourages other parents to get informed.
"We hear a lot about Internet fraud and scams these days and they're becoming more advanced and better at getting into our homes. We all have little kids and some of our kids are getting to the age where they are now on the computer as well and so we just thought it's good to know all this stuff," she said.