Cybercrime in Canada said to be skyrocketing

The number of Canadian servers being targeted by hackers has increased sharply, according to an IT security company that compares cybercrime rates around the world.

Canada ranks 2nd in world for phishing sites, report says

Canada ranks second worldwide for hosted phishing sites, ahead of well known offenders like Egypt and Russia. (Reuters)

The number of Canadian servers being targeted by hackers has increased sharply, according to an IT security company that compares cybercrime rates around the world.

San Diego-based Websense Inc. argues that hackers are taking advantage of Canada’s "squeaky clean" cyber reputation, which may no longer be as well-deserved as many believe.

A growing number of malicious sites are hosted on Canada's internet service providers, allowing criminals to carry out cyber attacks on Canadian and international users.

Computer security terms:

  • Phishing is a technique in which criminals try to trick people into disclosing sensitive information, such as online banking names and passwords, and is often conducted through e-mails that direct people to a bogus website.
  • Botnets are networks of computers that have been hijacked by malicious groups or individuals to do their bidding. Their owners are usually unwitting victims who have no idea their machines have been infected and turned into so-called "zombies" or "bots" that are typically used to distribute spam or phishing emails, or viruses and Trojans that are used to hijack other computers.

Websense figures for the first quarter of 2012 show that: 

  • Canada ranks second worldwide for hosted phishing sites — ahead of well known offenders like Egypt and Russia — and hosts 170 per cent more phishing sites than during the same time period last year. Only the U.S. is worse.
  • Cybercriminals have increased the number of remotely controlled computers that run malicious software, leading to a 39 per cent increase over the first quarter of 2011 in so-called bot network activity.
  • The number of malicious websites hosted in Canada has ballooned by 239 per cent since last year.

"Things are getting worse — simple as that," said Patrik Runald, the company's director of security research.

Canada's increase in cybercrime is part of a worldwide trend. Despite the sharp spike in numbers, Canada ranks sixth in the world, the same position it held during last year's study.

Hewlett-Packard's security division, DVLabs, said at a cybersecurity conference in Toronto on Tuesday that 50,000 phishing sites are discovered worldwide monthly.

Top 10 phishing-hosting countries

  • 1. United States
  • 2. Canada
  • 3. Egypt
  • 4. Germany
  • 5. France
  • 6. Romania
  • 7. Netherlands
  • 8. United Kingdom
  • 9. Russia
  • 10. Israel

Runald said malicious content had typically been hosted in places like eastern Europe, but in 2012 criminals have continued to focus on places like Canada, the U.S. and France.

"The bad guys are looking to host their malicious content in countries that have good reputations," he said.

The increase in phishing sites, which try to fool users into giving private information, was a particularly strong trend, according to Websense — a publicly traded company that specializes in web, data, and email security products, services, research and technology.

Canada had one of the highest increases in that area, the report said.

Runald said it's logical to infer that more Canadian phishing sites means more Canadians being targeted, though there is no data on the locations of victims. Examples he sent to CBC News included scams purporting to be from TD Canada Trust and Canada Post.

How you can protect yourself

  • Set your computer programs to automatically update.
  • Only shop online at trusted sites.
  • Be wary of links on Facebook or Twitter that seem out of character for the person posting them.
  • Set complicated passwords with at least six characters and both letters and symbols.

This year's report mentions many of the same issues that arose last year: Canadian IP addresses don't face the same scrutiny as those from other countries; Canada hasn't seen large cybercrime crackdowns like in the U.S.; and businesses aren't as aware of the issue as they could be.

Runald said the problem can be dealt with on multiple levels. For example:

  • Companies must be aware of what data is important to them, where it is and how to protect it. Too many companies only know that their information is "on the computer" without knowing what that means, he said. 
  • Internet service providers should do more to notify site owners when they notice a site has been compromised.
  • Governments can use tougher legislation to fight cybercrime.

"It typically doesn't get better," Runald said. "For Canada, getting out of the top 10 would be a good move."

With files from Andrew Pinsent