ITS teams share their personal security tips while working remotely

The recent shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a spike in malicious online targeting. Practising safe cyber security is more important than ever. To help inspire and assist others in using caution while working online, Information Technology Services (ITS) teams across the tri-campus shared their tips and habits about how to practise cyber security while working remotely.

We asked: “How are you, personally, and your team collectively practicing cyber security while you work remotely?” This is what we heard back…

Tip #1:

I work on a desktop device that is not used by any other member of my family.

Tip #2:

The device I work on is patched and updated to the most recent operating system.

Tip #3:

I use the UTORvpn service when connecting to sensitive University of Toronto (U of T) services.

Tip #4:

I use the UTORMFA service and do not set the ‘remember’ option.

Tip #5:

I run a regular backup of my remote device.

Tip #6:

I do not download sensitive information to my remote device; instead I work on documents stored in O365.

Tip #7:

Our team uses O365 services to share documentation. Also, we use to share sensitive docs with non-U of T destinations.

Tip #8:

I use a webcam cover on my devices when not using video.

Tip #9:

Be careful when sharing URLs to webinars and meetings with external parties. Use guest functions properly.

Tip #10:

I recommend using the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) Canadian Shield, a free DNS firewall service that provides online privacy and security.


For more tips and resources, visit the Remote Security Matters page.

Working remotely? U of T tech resources have you covered!

Working from home — or WFH as it’s become known — is the new reality for many in the University of Toronto (U of T) tri-campus community. According to data collected in March 2020, 99 per cent of Information Technology Services (ITS) staff were successfully WFH.

Since March, the ITS team has worked tirelessly to provide support and solutions to the entire University community to ensure WFH is accessible, comfortable and successful for everyone.

Here is a list of resources that can assist with your WFH technical needs while navigating this time as a mobile workforce.

ITS Preparedness page

The ITS preparedness page is your one-stop shop for technical FAQs related to WFH. It is organized in well-defined sections such as “phone” and “internet connectivity.” Find answers on how and when to secure virtual private network (VPN) to accessing remote desktop protocol (RDP) and everything in between. It also offers links to ITS news, best practise checklists, security resources and network usage graphs.

Remote Security Matters

The Information Security team recently launched a new page on the Security Matters website called Remote Security Matters. Review this page for information on how to create a “cyber secure home” and protect yourself from WFH-specific risks. Be sure to check back regularly as this page is continuously updated.

Video conferencing options

Trying to figure out the best platform for your meeting, conference or event? The Academic & Collaborative Technologies (ACT) team has put together a comprehensive list of U of T-supported webinar and video conferencing solutions. Visit: enterprise video-conferencing and video meeting resources.

Microsoft Teams

It’s no surprise that Microsoft Teams usage has skyrocketed at U of T this year. Staff and faculty are using the platform to chat, host meetings, share documents and more. Stay up-to-date on the latest updates and features, including the increase in meeting capacity, new grid and together mode. Learn more by visiting Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI).

Ongoing Connect+Learn sessions

Hosted every month by EASI, Connect+Learn sessions provide staff and faculty with training on common technologies and applications, such as Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint and VPNs. Each session features a brief 15-minute presentation followed by a question and answer discussion. To learn more and subscribe to the Connect+Learn newsletter, visit:

SharePoint Online

SharePoint Online is a cloud-based platform that enables groups to collaborate, share and publish documents or web content using a variety of template options — perfect for working remotely! Find out more about how SharePoint Online can help to streamline your current work experience. Read more by visiting Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI).

New ITS employees

Launched this year, a new ITS Recruitment and Orientation SharePoint site was created to help employees, including managers, joining ITS ease into their roles. It offers resources and information related to the University’s ITS organizational structure, processes, services and more. Read more on the ITS website.

Quercus: New tools to enhance remote teaching/learning

Quercus is the University of Toronto’s (U of T) web-based platform that instructors and students use to access course content, interact with one another, explore a range of tools and more.

With the increase in virtual classrooms this year, Information Technology Services’ Academic and Collaborative Technologies (ACT) team recently released new additions to the academic toolbox. These tools are available to help faculty enhance their courses and enrich the “classroom” learning experience for students.

Tools that support goals and learning outcomes

As of August 2020, new tools now available in Quercus include Top Hat, Piazza, Labster and the OneDrive (Office 365) integration. Review the full list of new tools for faculty, including an brief synopsis of what they are and how they are used.

Quercus Support Resources hub

For more information and support on remote teaching assistance, visit the Quercus Support Resources hub.

Audio/video recordings

There are several possible reasons a lecture or class session might be recorded for teaching and learning purposes. For example, to provide learner(s) an accommodation associated with a cognitive or physical disability, as a study aid and/or due to a missed class. This process might be initiated by the instructor or by the student. Learn more about the considerations, guidelines and policies that apply to lecture recordings:

Quercus: Fun facts!

The fall 2020 semester at U of T has been like no other. Here is a quick look at some of the Quercus activity the University has experienced (this data captures the 30-day period from Aug. 19 to Sept. 17, 2020).

CanSSOC: Harnessing the power of the collective

When it comes to cyber security and potential threats, the higher education sector faces its own unique set of challenges. Routinely, post-secondary institutions are targets of malicious phishing (i.e., impersonation emails, bogus job scams) and breaches to private data, including research — all heightened in the current pandemic climate.

A national approach

To create a more efficient and collective defence against cyber security threats within Canada’s higher education community, the University of Toronto (U of T) joined forces with other universities to investigate a coordinated and collaborative national approach to higher education cyber security.

Founded in 2019, the Canadian Shared Security Operations Centre (CanSSOC) is now developing threat intelligence initiatives that integrate skills and resources within the higher education sector to enable earlier prevention, real-time detection and more coordinated mitigation of cyber security issues. Partnerships with members of the Canadian National Research and Education Network (NREN) the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) and early-adopter institutions have been instrumental in helping develop this national approach. As CanSSOC’s member community continues to grow, the power of the collective will make it easier for everyone in Canada’s higher education sector to target and fight cyber security threats.

Watch recorded webinar

On Sept. 21, CanSSOC hosted a webinar on its Threat Feed platform and upcoming Vulnerability Management pilot. Watch the recording.

Follow CanSSOC

Get the latest news on CanSSOC by following the organization on Twitter: @CanSSOC.

You’ve got email!

Subscribe to the CanSSOC e-newsletter to be notified of its cyber security pilot initiatives and upcoming events, including future webinars.

Learn more about CanSSOC by visiting

Tax filers beware: CRA impersonators attack through phishing emails 

Tax season is upon us and cyber criminals are using this opportunity to set traps for taxpayers. A common scam is phishing emails that purport to be official communications from tax filing companies or legitimate messages from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). They often contain deceptive language that entices the recipient(s) to follow specific instructions.

Common types of scams

The CRA has identified some known types of tax-related scams, including but not limited to:

  • Messages that encourage you to click on a link to claim a refund.
  • Messages that notify you of an unpaid balance and threaten you with jail time if you don’t pay.
  • Messages that instruct you to follow a link to review changes in your account or to fill out a form with your login credentials and personal information.

Tax refund phishing email received by members of the University of Toronto (U of T) community:

Resources on what the CRA does and does not do when they contact you. The CRA also provides examples of fraudulent emails.

What to do if you suspect a phish

If you received a suspicious email relating to the CRA or tax filing:

Here’re some tips to help you find the “report message” function in Outlook:

  • In the Outlook desktop app, the “report message” button is in the upper right corner of the menu bar:

  • In the Outlook webmail, you can access the report function from two places:
  1. From the preview pane:

  2. From the email message:

Tax filers should be vigilant about tax-related communications either by phone, mail, text message or email. Never give out personal information, including financial information or login credentials to unidentified personnel.

When in doubt, always login to your CRA account through a trusted browser or call CRA’s Individual Income Tax Enquiries line at 1.800.959.8281.

For more tax-related scams and best practices to protect yourself, visit the CRA security site.

Cyber threat trends for 2020

In February, IBM released its 2020 Threat Intelligence Index to highlight the most prominent cyber security risks and trends collected from the past year. With a good understanding of this report, organizations can make well-informed decisions on the battle against cyber crime and learn more about protecting data online.

Cyber crime trends and approaches

As the use of smart devices are a reality, cyber criminals are using the internet of things (IoT) such as smart home hubs, connected security systems and smart thermostats to threaten both consumers and enterprises. Malware campaigns tracked by IBM in 2019 showed a shift from targeting consumer electronics to targeting enterprise-grade devices, which is a new trend that didn’t occur in 2018.

In terms of the approaches that attackers use to initiate cyber attacks, phishing was the leading method used in 2019, accounting for 31 per cent of initial attacks. At 30 per cent, scan-and-exploit was the secondary approach used by attackers to inspect target environments for vulnerabilities. The third most popular method (29 per cent) was the use of stolen credentials to access data.

Industries being targeted

The top targeted industries in 2019, included financial services, retail, transportation, media, professional services, government, education, manufacturing, energy and health care.

Key lessons for 2020

With cyber security in mind, the Information Security Team and the chief information officer at the University of Toronto continue to implement various initiatives including anti-phishing exercises, cyber security seminars and events such as Cyber Security Awareness Month and Data Privacy Day to help staff and students protect their data online.

As the key takeaways from this report, organizations should consider the following action plans to better prepare for cyber threats in 2020:

  • Grasp a better understanding of cyber security threat motivations and tactics;
  • Build and train in-house incident response teams;
  • Practice and test incident response plans;

Read the full report to learn more.

Phishing alert – CRA scam targets university communities

The Information Security team at the University of Toronto (U of T) is warning students, staff and faculty to be wary of a current email scam circulating from what appears to be the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

The CRA scam is targeting students, faculty and staff at universities across the country. It states that a tax credit is owing to the recipient and requests a response in order to receive the refund.

Given that we are in the midst of tax season, more of this type of activity may appear in the coming weeks and months, warns Isaac Straley, U of T’s chief information security officer. “While the Information Security team and your local IT are working together to reduce the amount of scam emails you receive, it’s recommended that everyone remain vigilant when dealing with electronic communications,” said Straley.

If you are concerned that you may have shared your personal information (e.g., social insurance number (SIN) or credit card number) with a scammer, the CRA advises you contact the police. If your SIN has been stolen, you should also contact Service Canada at 1-800-206-7218 and/or visit the website for more information.

If you are concerned that you have shared banking information, please contact your bank.

What to do if you suspect a phishing attempt/attack…

  • If you suspect your password may have been compromised, immediately change it.
  • If you receive a phishing message(s) and are using U of T Office 365/UTMail+, please report it using the “report message” function in your inbox. Otherwise, please report it to:
  • When in doubt about the legitimacy of an email, call or ask the sender in person to confirm if they sent the email.
  • If you opened an attachment that was sent in a phishing email, reach out to your local IT service desk immediately.

CSAM 2019 recap: activities across the tri-campus community

Online privacy and data protection were front and centre for University of Toronto (U of T) staff, students and faculty during Cyber Security Awareness Month (CSAM) activities, held throughout October.

Hosted by the Information Security team, events included pop-up information booths and Coffee with the CISO sessions, held across all three U of T campuses. The overall theme was: “One Team. One Goal.”

The pop-up booths, staffed by security team members, offered the U of T community a chance to ask questions, play games and pick up security-related prizes, swag and educational resources. In total, about 400 people visited the three booths collectively.

Meanwhile, the invitation-only Coffee with the CISO provided about 60 faculty and staff members the chance to meet and start a dialogue with Isaac Straley, who joined U of T as its first-appointed CISO in December 2018.

Other events included a lightning round presentation, featuring Information Security Council working group chairs at the St. George campus, and a cyberbullying panel discussion in Mississauga.

The Security Matters website has been updated with new resources from this past month’s CSAM initiatives, check it out to learn more.

CSAM: Cyber security – we’re in this together!

October is just around the corner and while temperatures may be dropping, cyber security education and awareness will be on the rise.

The start of a new school year brings with it new cyber risks and threats. The University of Toronto’s (U of T) Information Security team is tackling issues of privacy and data protection by hosting its annual Cyber Security Awareness Month (CSAM) activities across all three campuses, starting Oct. 1.

Part of this year’s focus will be on how individuals and the University must work together to keep its systems and people secure. The overall theme will be: “One Team. One Goal.”

“We’re in this together – Universities are places of open inquiry, exchange of information, and collaboration,” explains Isaac Straley, U of T’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Information Security. “Information security and privacy can be a challenge in this environment, but it is not a zero sum game. We do, though, have to help each other out.”

CSAM activities will include pop-up booths at all three campuses, staffed by security team members. At the booths, students, faculty and staff will have the chance to meet University employees who help protect their privacy and data as well as pick up resources about how to practise information security in the office, classroom, academic spaces and at home.

“The increasing need to develop critical cyber security skills is an important message for the entire University audience and I’m really excited to see this initiative broaden its support to the tri-campus community,” says Luke Barber, Director of Information & Instructional Technology Services for U of T Mississauga. “I think we’ll all see benefits and learning outcomes far greater than the sum of our individual efforts in doing so!”

Zoran Piljevic, Director of Information & Instructional Technology Services at U of T Scarborough, agrees. He says regardless of whether you are at work or school, the organization’s online safety and security is a responsibility that we all share. “Our data is valuable and we need to incorporate a daily routine of vigilance when handling information,” says Piljevic. “We look forward to emphasizing resistance and resilience through our education, training and awareness efforts in October at the Scarborough campus.”

Other CSAM-related events taking place throughout the month will include contests, an Information Security Council Panel discussion and social media polls. For a full list of events, visit the Security Matters calendar.

Straley, who joined U of T as its first-appointed CISO in December 2018, will also be hosting an invitation-only “Coffee with the CISO” event at each campus.

A recognized thought leader in information security and privacy, Straley held a similar CISO role at the University of California for 13 years. His top security tips to the U of T community are: “Be thoughtful about unexpected emails, especially those with urgent demands, be careful about the apps you install on your devices, and always check privacy setting and default sharing. You do not have to be an expert or work hard to make a real difference.”

Talking tech and security at the student street fest

Hundreds of University of Toronto (U of T) students and staff had the chance to talk to Information Technology Services (ITS) staff and take home swag, resources and prizes during the 2019 Students’ Union (UTSU) Street Fest, held under warm, sunny skies on Sept. 11.

Three ITS-related booths exhibited at the annual
St. George Street festival: Information Security (IS), Quercus and Next Generation Student Information Services (ACORN).

The IS and Quercus booths both enticed the crowd with games. IS hosted the “Catch the Phish” challenge, awarding University-branded power banks to winners who could spot 10 signs of a phishing email. Offering a range of prizes, including mugs, the Quercus-themed “A Tree Through The Ages” trivia challenged people on their knowledge of the U of T learning management system.

Meanwhile, ACORN staff was on hand next store to answer questions about the student information service and give out sweet treats.

Check out more of the activity on social media: Twitter and Instagram.

Coming up….
Stay tuned for more information security coming up this October. Students, staff and faculty members can participate in events and activities during Cyber Security Awareness Month (CSAM), happening across all three campuses.

Visit our Security Matters calendar to stay up-to-date on upcoming activities.