Are You Vulnerable to Online Security Threats?

Dave Whittle, associate director of IT operations and infrastructure, says Internet users must be vigilant

Dave Whittle, associate director of IT operations at the University of Guelph

Dave Whittle.

When was the last time you changed the passwords for your online accounts? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t change your passwords frequently enough, which could make you vulnerable to security threats.

 Dave Whittle, U of G’s new associate director of IT operations and infrastructure in Computing and Communications Services (CCS), is working to help students, staff and faculty protect themselves in a constantly changing security landscape.

“I’m enjoying it,” he says of his new position, which he started in July 2014. “It’s a different experience for me, as before I had spent most of my time in the corporate world.”

Prior to joining U of G, he worked more than six years at Research In Motion, maker of BlackBerry, where he helped develop the company’s global security systems. He also previously worked for the Government of Canada, providing data services to government departments.

Whittle describes his role at U of G as “multifaceted,” focusing on Help Desk support, managed servers and desktops, data storage, network communications and wireless services.

“The goal is to create a safe working environment and learning environment for students, staff and faculty, and we have to do that in partnership,” he says. “You can only do so much with technology, so you have to make sure that people are doing smart things around how they store and protect their data.”

Part of his job at U of G involves identifying emerging security threats. “The security landscape has changed quite drastically over the past couple of years because most of the threats are rapidly evolving,” he says. “There are new threats in software and malware produced on a daily basis that a lot of traditional security technology can’t detect.”

Investing in new technology is one way to combat those threats; educating users on how to protect themselves is another. Technology can only protect against 60 per cent of online threats, Whittle says, so it’s important for Internet users to be vigilant.

“If somebody does try to pose a threat in the environment, you want to make it difficult for them to get a hold of sensitive data,” he says.

Being too trusting of the Internet is one of the biggest challenges for the average user. With millions of smartphone apps available for download, “How do you know that application doesn’t contain something malicious? Some of them are extremely sophisticated,” says Whittle, referring to apps that mimic security programs but are actually malware that can capture text messages and phone calls. He also cautions against posting too much personal information online, especially on social media sites, since it can be leveraged to compromise your identity.

Phishing is another way hackers can access your personal information by pretending to be a company that you’re familiar with. You may receive an e-mail that looks like it came from your bank, asking you to click on a link to update your personal information. “You’re actually going to a site that’s downloading malware unknowingly to your laptop or mobile device,” says Whittle.

If you receive such an email, he advises to check for warning signs such as spelling mistakes, and hover your cursor over the link to see if it looks fake.

“Any type of reputable company will not ask you to share personal information by clicking on a link because they’re liable for protecting that information,” he says.

Here are some more online security tips from Whittle:

• If you’re a student, you can download free antivirus software through CCS.

• Make sure sensitive data is encrypted and stored in a safe location.

• Don’t leave sensitive data, whether it’s on paper or electronic, unattended or unlocked.

For more information on how to protect yourself online, visit the IT Security Road Show on March 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the University Centre.