How to talk to your uncle about cyber security over the holidays

Talking to your relatives is a holiday rite of passage for many Canadians. There are, after all, so few opportunities in the year to get together with your family members and gather the most outrageous takes on almost any topic you could think of.

We can’t help you plan for every possible topic of conversation that might come up. But we can prepare you for at least one: cyber security.

a woman and a man talking on cell phones, with passwords behind them

And while the holidays in 2020 are shaping up to be a little different than what we’re used to, it’s never too early to start planning for the future.

So if you end up in a conversation with your uncle (or aunt or cousin or parents) about cyber security, here’s a road map for seeing you safely through to the other side – this year, or in the future.

Your uncle: Cyber security is a waste of time. I’m not likely to be a victim anyway!

You: You’re more likely to be a victim of a cyber attack than you might think. Fewer than one in five Canadians think they are likely to be a victim of a cyber attack. But the number of actual attacks is far higher.

Your uncle: But I don’t even do anything risky online!

You: Even people who only use the internet for routine things can be victims.
Cyber criminals are always on the lookout for opportunities to steal people’s information and money.

Remember last year when somebody tried to trick you with a suspicious email?

Your uncle: But foreign royalty needed me! What am I supposed to do, not help?

You: Yeah. You were the victim of a phishing attempt. It’s nothing to feel guilty about – a huge percentage of Canadians become victims of phishing attempts by cyber criminals.   Cyber criminals are skilled at tricking you into thinking you’re receiving a legitimate message that’s in fact designed to steal from you.

But it’s important to know the signs of a phishing message and then avoid these messages at all costs!

You can also take measures to protect yourself even if you are tricked by a phishing message. Multi-factor authentication is where you provide a second authentication factor, like a phone number to receive a one-time PIN or SMS message, to stay cyber secure. Using multi-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security if a cyber criminal gets access to your password.

Your uncle: I’m not giving any social media company my phone number!

You: It’s not about giving platforms another opportunity for marketing and promotion – multi-factor authentication is designed to protect you!

Multi-factor authentication basically means that, if someone knows or guesses your password and tries to hack into your account, they would need that second authentication factor to access your account.

So, say you’re using your phone to receive a second authentication factor like a one-time PIN. If the social media platform detects a suspicious log-in attempt to your account, you’ll get a text message asking to verify that it was actually you.
All in all, MFA is a simple step you can take to protect yourself from cyber criminals!

Another simple step you can take is adopting complex passwords or passphrases to keep your accounts secure.

Your uncle: Now you’re going to tell me what kind of password to have? I use the same password for everything so I can honour my beloved cat, the late Mr. Knuckles! Who’s going to tell me I can’t?!

You: First of all, you should be using a different password for every account you have. Otherwise, if a cyber criminal gains access to your password for one account, they can use it to access all your accounts.

Second, you should use something other than a pet’s name to create passwords. In fact, any basic information about someone – like a family member’s birthday or favourite sports team – is easy for a cyber criminal to guess.

That’s why it’s always best to use either a complex password or passphrase to make it more difficult for a cyber criminal to guess.

Your uncle: I’m still not convinced. If a cyber criminal wants to attack me, there’s not much I can do about it! So why bother with this stuff?

You: That’s like saying that because car accidents happen, it doesn’t make sense to put on winter tires or get your brakes checked.

Yes, cyber attacks happen. But you can still take measures to protect yourself!
Here’s what I’d recommend for you as a starting point:

  • Use a unique and complex password or passphrase for each of your accounts
  • Turn on multi-factor authentication whenever possible
  • Steer clear of suspicious emails or text messages
  • Check out the Get Cyber Safe website for more tips on staying cyber secure

That will go a long way to protecting you!

Your uncle: Wow – it’s THAT easy?! Why didn’t I do this before?

You: (Nod knowingly and sink back into chair with sense of satisfaction.)

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