Once again the holiday season is upon us. This is a time where we celebrate family and friends, reach out to those in need and try to make the world a better place one little act of kindness at a time. Unfortunately, it’s also a time where those who don’t share our vision of “Peace on Earth” abuse the generosity and trust of people around the world by lying, stealing and destroying the financial lives of innocent victims. Cyberattacks are on the rise and the Christmas holiday season provides online fraudsters with ample ammunition to target online shoppers and those expecting various communications from mail and parcel delivery services.
In an effort to protect you during the holidays, the Information Management and Security Office would like to remind you of the following guidelines to help you keep your information and your computing devices safe and scam free.
You certainly wouldn’t hang your house keys or car keys on your mailbox outside your house. Anyone could walk by, grab the keys and help themselves to your assets. Unfortunately, we don’t treat our passwords with the same kind of respect it seems. Passwords are the key to your online identity and improper usage or storage of them makes it easy for attackers to abuse your credentials and do things that would certainly land them on the naughty list. Some guidelines to remember for keeping passwords safe include:
1. DON’T REUSE PASSWORDS ACROSS WEBSITES. Although it’s tempting since passwords are hard to remember, it is a very poor practice to only have one password for your online identity. Not all sites are created equal so there may be some wiggle room in that directive but generally you need to have distinctly separate passwords on the following sites:
c. Ecommerce sites that store your credit card or banking info (PayPal, Amazon, etc).
A password management tool like KeePass or LastPass can help manage your passwords and keep them safe. Many of them are free and will create a vault for you to store these precious assets in.
2. DO NOT ENTER PASSWORDS INTO WEBSITES THAT ASK YOU TO CONFIRM YOUR IDENTITY THROUGH EMAIL. Those emails that promise more space or a deactivation of your account are fraudulent. We refer to them as phishing attacks. These websites are often hosted in questionable locations that don’t have anything to do with the organization who supposedly sent you the email. Always check the address bar of your browser or hover over a link with your mouse to make sure you are where you think you are. For example, a uleth.ca login page will never be hosted on a site that doesn’t end in .uleth.ca (https://login.uleth.ca/cas/login, or https://adfs.uleth.ca )
For a complete training course on phishing, we encourage you to enroll in our online training materials available for all students, staff and faculty. Visit the Information Security webpage for more information. Enrollment in these courses is easy.
Part of our overall security strategy at the University is to restrict certain files from coming into your inbox. Certain attachments can be used to spread viruses, malware or ransomware. For example, you cannot receive .zip, .docm, .exe or .com files. All of these could contain potential risks and so we remove them before they ever have a chance to arrive in your email. However, we cannot control your personal email accounts or websites you may visit, which may host these types of files. We encourage you to never open a suspicious file from someone you don’t know or to click on links from non-trusted webpages that encourage you to download these types of files. When downloaded and running, these types of files can silently download malicious software onto your computer which could result in the complete loss of data or usage of your machine.
During the holidays there are some common scams that occur including emails which are attempts to trick users into thinking they are receiving a package or delivery. Because of the time of year we aren’t always thinking about whether or not we are actually expecting something and sometimes click on places we shouldn’t. A few years ago we had a huge spike in these kinds of emails and so we created a webpage that describes the attack in detail and how you can avoid it. Please review that summary here.
A new and very effective attack that is becoming increasingly popular is ransomware. This type of attack will hold your data ransom and demand payment (usually $200 – $400 per machine) in order to restore access. There is no technical solution that can fix ransomware once it has infected your computer and unless you have backups in place, you will be forced to pay or lose your data. Paying ransom can be complicated and doesn’t actually guarantee that you will be able to recover your data so the preference is to never get infected in the first place. Ransomware is typically delivered though malicious email attachments or files downloaded from the internet. Most infections can be easily avoided if you pay attention to what you click on and never allow untrusted applications or website to run programs on your system. Ransomware affects a variety of institutions and organizations. Recently, the University of Calgary and Carleton University in Ottawa had ransomware unleashed in their environment which caused huge interruptions to their research and teaching activities. These types of attacks could have serious implications on the University of Lethbridge and we urge all users to be vigilant in their computing activities to prevent similar incidents from happening here.
What can you do?
The Information Security program at the University of Lethbridge has created a variety of training and education opportunities to help you understand how best to protect your information. All University staff, faculty and students should be engage in these online and in person training opportunities. Any questions or concerns should be sent to ITS who will be happy to assist you.
Current training courses include:
1. Security Awareness (A general overview of good IT Security practices)
2. Phishing Awareness (A focused review of Phishing attacks and how to avoid them)
3. Data Encryption (How to encrypt and protect sensitive data in the event of loss or theft)
4. Data Storage Standard (All staff and faculty should take this every 2 years to determine where and how to store various types of data)
To schedule some in person training for your department, please reach out to Kevin Vadnais, 403-332-4056 or firstname.lastname@example.org, who will arrange a time to address the topics that affect your teams the most.