A small but bustling southern Ontario city and British Columbia municipalities off the banks of the Fraser River are the riskiest Canadian municipalities when it comes to spam and online fraud, according to a recent report.
The City of Burlington, some 60 kilometers south of the Big Smoke, Port Coquitlam, and the Township of Langley, both in B.C., were numbers one, two and three respectively in Norton Top 10 Riskiest Online Canadian Cities Report.
The report was based on a study by security firm, Toronto-based Symantec Canada and independent research firm Sperling’s BestPlaces.
This is the first time Symantec came out with such a survey.
“I think the data is interesting in that it tells people that cyber crime is happening in their own backyards,” said Lynne Hargrove, director of consumer solutions for Symantec.
Other Canadian municipalities in the top 10 “risky online cities” list are: Vancouver, B.C.; Calgary; Oakville, Ont.; Markham Ont.; Toronto; Kelowa, B.C. and Kitchener, Ont.
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Of the 50 cities named on the list, 22 were from Ontario, 11 from B.C. and eight from Quebec.
The study said Burlington ranked first in vulnerability to cybercrime, as well as in the number of attacks and potential infections and second in botnets.
Here’s the complete list of Canada’s riskiest cities.
Burlington speaks out
Burlington mayor Cam Jackson said he agreed with the study’s characterization of his city as a “growing economic hub” in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe valley, but sought “better clarity” on how Symantec was able to come up with its findings.
“What I don’t understand is how they (Symantec) came up with the numbers on cyber crime,” he told ITBusiness.ca.
“We need to be told what the purpose of this study is – whether it’s for commercial or academic use,” added.
Jackson pointed out that Canadian financial advice magazine Money Sense recently named Burlington as the 4th best place to live in Canada.
He said the article mentioned high education levels and high disposable incomes. It cited the fact that Burlington is one of Canada’s safest cities as the basis for its decision.
He also said his office has not received any complaints involving cyber crime. He said local Internet service providers (ISPs) would probably have stats on this.
The top ISPs in Burlington are Cogeco, Bell and Rogers.
Prosperity tied to cyber crime
Symantec got much of its data from network of Internet monitors, input from enterprise customers and existing statistics, Hargrove told ITBusiness.ca.
This information, she said, was used to draw a picture of the communities’ Internet use, wireless hotspot deployment, household expenditure, as well as prevalence and per capita distribution of cyber attacks, spam zombies and malware infections.
Symantec did not talk to individual victims or consult with law enforcement authorities.
“The study is an eye opener and demonstrates that larger urban centres, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which have a mix of high and low income communities, don’t necessarily have the same level of Internet access as do wealthier suburbs such as Burlington, Oakville and Kelowa,” Hargrove said.
Residents in areas with greater computer access tend to use the Internet and WiFi hotspots for shopping, banking and communications more often and this makes them easier targets for cyber criminals, the Symantec executive said.
For instance, the survey indicated that Vancouver and Toronto ranked high in the consumer expenditure and WiFi categories. The two cities were in the top 10 of the list.
Oakville residents spent more time on the Internet and had a higher number of computer buyers than any of the other cities in Canada.
Longueuil, Que., a suburban commuter community adjacent to Montreal, ranked lowest across the board in all areas including cyber crime, access to the Internet, expenditure on computer equipment and wireless Internet access.
The study said the average Burlington resident spends $591 per person, per year on computer related purchases.
Burlington ranked 11th in WiFi availability, with 18.9 hotspots per 100,000 residents.
Port Coquitlam residents spend an average of $548 on Internet access and computer related purchases. This city has 15.2 WiFi hotspots per 100,000 residents.
Canada’s largest city, Toronto, ranked second in consumer expenditure on computer-related purchases ($621), and 10th in WiFi with 19.5 hotspots per 100,000 residents.
It ranks 18th in Internet access and 19th in vulnerability to cyber crime.
“The study should serve as a wake up call for the inhabitants of these cities,” said Claudiu Popa, a security specialist and president of Informatica Security Corp., an information risk management, security and privacy consulting firm in Toronto.
Popa, who blogs on security issues for ITBusiness.ca, said residents of communities in the top 10 list may have a “lower level of awareness and skepticism when it comes to spam and online scams.”
“This is not to say that cyber crooks are targeting these specific areas. The Internet makes sure that spam and fraud is everywhere. It’s just that they are likely to succeed in these areas.”
A London, Ont-based IT industry analyst, however, believes cyber criminals are focusing on areas with a larger density of wired and connected potential victims.
“Criminals go where they have the greatest chance of encountering the most victims. This largely explains why there are more muggings downtown than in rural Aurora.” said Carmi Levy, independent IT analyst.
“Toronto isn’t necessarily more dangerous than Aurora, it just seems that way because the density of potential victims far exceeds that of a less populated area.”
“Just because a city such as Oakville makes the list doesn’t mean it is — by definition — unaware of online safety issues,” said Levy, also an ITBusiness.ca blogger.
He said the report is a reminder to Internet users “not to let our awareness slip.”
The study shows that everyone is exposed to a certain level of online risk according to Bert Sperling, founder and researcher of Sperling’s Best Places.
“No matter where you live – be it Burlington or Longueuil – it is important to be vigilant in everyday online behaviour in order to protect yourself against cyber crime of all types.”