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Cyber-attack! How do I keep my online data safe?


Cyber hacking and data breaches have been capturing headlines around the globe, making online security a top priority for everyone. With patient confidentiality and important clinical information on the line, the stakes in health care are very high. 

Vancouver Costal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) digital privacy and protection expert Janine Johnston decodes what clinicians and researchers can do to protect their electronic data from attack. 

Q: I regularly hear news reports about cyber attacks. How vulnerable is the confidential information on my computer?

A: Our computers may be quite vulnerable to attack, depending on how information is stored and shared. Email is most vulnerable through attachments and links embedded in the body of the text. While VCHRI accounts have many safeguards against attacks, this does not mean that attacks cannot happen. 

Q: Can I get a virus just from opening an email?

A: Opening an email is usually okay. What is of concern is opening attachments and clicking on links or images within an email message sent by an attacker. Attachments may have malicious programs embedded in them that, when opened, can harm your computer or network. Links and images within messages may redirect you to a malicious website, or may try to trick you into entering sensitive information. 

Q: My computer is password protected, so why do some of my private documents need to be encrypted? 

A: Think of a password as the lock on the front door of your house. It may stop a thief from easily walking in, but it will not stop him or her from entering through your window. Similarly, a password that is easy to guess is like leaving the keys to your house under your front door mat. 

It is important to make sure you have a strong password and fully encrypted devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Read more of this Q&A on cyber security at VCHRI.

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