Cybersecurity – Keeping kids and money safe

Hands at a keyboard overlaid with many lines of computer code.

The big web giants have access to billions of pieces of our personal data. And with massive amounts of data, comes power. Can we prevent such wholesale access to our data, and, if so, how?

By Marc Gauthier

Many of us spend much of our life in front of a screen. And without knowing it, we’re providing access to our private life to lots of people — some of whom have bad intentions.

What can this lead to? Identity theft, online attacks, cyberbullying, phishing, fraud and more.

“There’s a great deal of poor judgement exercised when it comes to the internet,” says Jean-François Sauriol (MEng ’93), who has worked for 25 years as an IT security specialist.

“Why do you think Facebook is free? Because it makes money off the information we give the social media giant,” he says. Facebook has been under fire ever since the personal data of over 87 million of its users found their way into the hands of companies that have been accused of using the information to influence voters.

Sextortion and other threats

This complacency in protecting our personal data “is even worse among our young people,” says Jean-François Sauriol.

“They spend seven hours a day in front of a screen. They’re left to their own devices…parents just can’t keep up with the technology.”

For 12 years, Jean-François Sauriol has been going into schools to talk about cybersecurity.

“The problem at the moment is sextortion. Criminals manage to hack into young people’s webcams and film them without them even knowing or even make them expose themselves,” he says. “And almost nobody thinks of covering their webcam once they’re done to prevent this type of crime,” says the father of adolescents who are well aware of these emerging forms of crime.


Our own negligence when it comes to internet security opens the door to increasingly sophisticated threats. Financial fraud, including money laundering, and scams of all kinds are on the rise. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce estimates the cost of cybercrime at over $3 billion per year.

In Ottawa in the summer of 2017, a luxury property and car valued at $900,000 were seized and a drug dealer was arrested. This was a result of data analysis carried out by FINTRAC, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.

Established in 2000, FINTRAC collects, analyzes and discloses financial information on suspected money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities.

“When a transaction is done within the legitimate economy, it leaves a trace,” says Barry MacKillop (MA, ’89), deputy director of operations at FINTRAC.

But criminals are very resourceful. Are you familiar with smurfing? This technique involves breaking up large amounts of money into many small amounts and depositing them in different banks. These funds are then redirected to a central bank but go undetected by the authorities because they're below the mandatory reporting threshold.

Is technology lagging behind?

To prevent having our accounts hacked or our personal data misused, we have to be more careful until technology has evolved to the point where it can keep our information secure.

"We could communicate with each other in a fully secure environment using quantum physics. But that would mean a quantum internet," says Anne Broadbent, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Ottawa. "The components of such a network already exist, but for the moment, the communication distance is limited."

According to Broadbent, we won't see fully protected communications for everyone for at least 40 years.

Until then, the message from web experts remains the same--people have to learn to better protect themselves.

Jean-François Sauriol

“There is a huge gap between the knowledge parents have and the knowledge their children have…one that we can’t close.”

Jean-François Sauriol (MEng ’93), President, Security JF

Barry Mackillop

“We make sure that we have iron-clad security measures in place to protect our own data against cyberattacks.”

Barry MacKillop (MA ’89), Deputy Director of Operations at FINTRAC

Photo: Couvrette/Ottawa -

Anne Broadbent

“ I would be very happy if by the end of the presentation, attendees would want to find out how to better protect themselves online.”

Anne Broadbent, (M.Sc. Ph.D.) Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa Department of Mathematics and Statistics


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