British Columbia

It's time to rethink what information we share, says online security expert

Following a hack of Canada's largest telecom company, an online security expert says it's time to be smarter when sharing personal information.

Don't give out your birthdate without a good reason, he advises

Online security expert Chester Wisniewski says Canada's lax data protection laws often leave it up to the user to stay secure on the internet. (AFP/Getty Images)

The principal research scientist with a Vancouver-based software security company says it's time to modernize the way we verify our identities and protect our information online.

Chester Wisniewski, who works with the security company Sophos, says telecommunication companies are experiencing security breaches more frequently than ever.

Wisniewski joined B.C. Almanac's guest-host Lien Yeung to offer tips on staying secure online after Bell Canada alerted almost 100,000 of its customers to a hacking breach on Tuesday,

As the world moves from paper to digital records, Wisniewski said accessing personal information remotely is much more possible.

"There are some things we need to be more conscious of," said Wisniewski. "We need to be a bit more cautious with who we trust what information with."

Be careful when filling in forms

While absolute honesty is required for banking and taxes, when it comes to protecting yourself online, Wisniewski advises using common sense. Be discerning about providing information online, especially identity verifiers like your birthday. 

"It's nice getting a coupon from your favourite sandwich shop when you sign up for their program on your birthday," said Wisniewski. "But does it really matter if you get the free sandwich on January 10th instead of January 13th?"

While Wisniewski doesn't recommend providing fraudulent information on bank or government forms, he does recommend not providing excessive identity information when applying for a business' discount.

"I'll give you my postal code so you know what area of town I live in ... But you don't need my birth date or how many children I have," he said.

Be aware of protection laws in Canada

He said data protection regulations in general are weak in Canada and that in B.C. specifically, people are protected by the Personal Information Protection Act which is under-utilized and vague.

"Personally, I would be more comfortable with my data being stored in France or Germany than in Canada, just because the laws are so much stricter," said Wisniewski.

With files from B.C. Almanac