Burlington leads list of Canada’s ‘riskiest’ online cities again

It’s a recognition that few, if any, municipalities would probably want.

For the second time in a row, Burlington, Ont., has earned the distinction of being home to the highest potential risk for cybercrime by a computer security vendor.

The bustling southern Ontario city, located some 60 kilometres from Toronto, is number one in the Top 10 Riskiest Online Cities of 2012 list released by Norton, a division of Symantec Corp. The report was based on a study commissioned last year by the Toronto-based Symantec Canada. Burlington was number one as well in the study for 2010 which was released by Norton in 2011.

“Burlington reported the highest scores among the cybercrime data per capita in three of the four cybercrime data factors. Burlington’s Internet use and computer expenditures were also high,” the report said.

ITBusiness.ca attempted to get a comment from authorities of the City of Burlington, but as of press time, no official was available for a comment.

The four main data factors are: Cyber crime data, number of places offering Wi-Fi connection to the Internet, prevalence of computing devices and Internet use, and incidence of risky user behaviour (online purchasing, e-mail, accessing financial information online.)

The other nine Canadian cities on this year’s list were:

  • Port Coquitlam, B.C.
  • Vancouver, B.C.
  • Langley, B.C.
  • Calgary, Alta.
  • Fredericton, N.B.
  • Toronto, Ont.
  • New Westminster, B.C.
  • Edmonton, Alta.
  • Victoria, B.C.

View Top 10 riskiest online cities of 2012 by Norton in a larger map

Click here for a short link to the interactive map

Last year’s top 10 were:

  • Burlington
  • Port Coquitlam
  • Langley
  • Vancouver
  • Calgary
  • Oakville, Ont.
  • Markham, Ont
  • Kelowna, B.C.
  • Kitchener, Ont.

The lists, however, were dismissed as “meaningless” by one Toronto-based security expert.

“Don’t get me wrong I think a lot of Symantec products are fine but this list has very little relevance when it comes to deciding whether or not you should have your business or residence in any of these cities,” said Claudiu Popa, principal of Informatica Corp.

“I would caution against labeling municipalities as ‘riskiest online cities,’ it’s such a vague term that does not identify specific threats and does not help anybody,” he said.

Lynn Hargrove, director of consumer solutions for Symantec Canada, said researchers used a combination analysis of consumer behaviour and of cybercrime activities tracked by Symantec’s online sensors and filtering equipment.

“It was not just a matter of tracking cybercrime activity alone. We also took into account social factors such as population affluence and prevalence of computers and mobile devices as well as frequency of Internet use,” she said.

Cybercrime data for Symantec included:

Consumer behaviour data included:

  • User access to Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Consumer spending on PCs
  • Prevalence of Internet use
  • Use of smartphones and other mobile devices
  • Social networking activities

Hargrove, however, was also cautious: “This is not to say that Burlington is a cybercrime hotspot. We don’t like people to think that they should not have their business there or not live there.”

She said the report should be used as a tool to illustrate the ever present online risks and cyber crime patterns. “As in the previous year’s report, we found that cyber criminals tend to target areas where there is a lot of online activity,” Hargrove said.

Wi-Fi spots and the mobile explosion

Hargrove’s reasoning would be true for cities like Vancouver, B.C. which has the second highest number of Wi-Fi hotspots per capita, a high social networking activity and the third highest incidence of IP address spamming.

The same could be said for Fredericton, N.B. Although the city has a low PC use record, the city garnered a 90 percentile score on the study’s four data factors because of the populations substantial Wi-Fi and social networking use. “Fredericton is a university town. There’s a lot of Wi-Fi service and many users are into social networking,” said Hargrove.

However, the formula doesn’t seem to hold true all the time. Take the case of Victoria, B.C.

By Symantec’s own account, the city has the highest number of Wi-Fi spots (170 per 100,000 people). It also has the highest rate of botnets by city.

Victoria was at the bottom of the list, according to Hargrove, because online risk in the area was low since not enough people were using the Internet and the number of personal computers was the lowest out of the 10 cities.

This year’s survey results could not be compared with last year’s list as well because of the increased use of smartphones and tablets in 2011.

“Today’s survey is very different from the previous year because in 2011 we saw an explosion of Wi-Fi access and mobile device. These were not major factors in 2010,” said Hargrove.

Popa of Informatica agrees.

“The adoption of mobile tools such as smartphones and tablets in both the consumer and enterprise space has altered the security landscape,” he said

Because of the increasing online activities using these device, they have become targets of cyber criminals said Popa.

“Unfortunately despite the speed with which they deploy these devices in the workplace, there has been a widespread failure to adapt security policies to meet emerging threats,” he added.

Tips for safe surfing

Whether surfing for business or pleasure, here are some things you should consider to avoid becoming a cyber crime victim:

  • Minimize the use of free public Wi-Fi hotspots. Public hotspots often have very little protection.
  • If you must use public hotspots, avoid conducting online transactions that would include transmission of private or financial data.
  • Make us of complex passwords and change them frequently.
  • Make sure you are using authentic and updated security software on your machine.
  • Do not open unfamiliar e-mails or text messages, they could contain malware.
  • Do not open or click attachments from unknown senders.
  • Be careful when exchanging data in social networking sites there is a large possibility that the information could end up with unintended recipients.


Nestor ArellanoNestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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