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New privacy rules will force Canadian companies to disclose data breaches

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New privacy rules designed to better safeguard the personal data of Canadians and let them know when it has been breached kick in Thursday, but even security experts say they are far from perfect.

The legislation, known as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (or PIPEDA) does a lot of things, but most importantly from a consumer’s perspective, it requires Canadian companies to alert their customers any time their personal information may have fallen into the wrong hands.

Much of the law is aimed at preventing breaches in the first place, but as of now, companies big and small are required to notify the office of the Privacy Commission of Canada any time there’s “a real risk of significant harm to an individual” from a security breach, even if the exact terminology of what that constitutes a breach will still be open to interpretation.

Among the new rules are a requirement that companies must keep accurate data about cybersecurity safeguards for two years following, in case breaches are revealed down the line. The law also calls for “appropriate” digital safeguards at all parts of the business, including dealings with third party contractors.

The rules call for stiff penalties, too — up to $100,000 per violation — a sum that should be enough to frighten many businesses into updating their IT infrastructure. But many will have problems complying with the new rules, partly because of a lack of awareness.

“The vast majority of business owners don’t know that this is happening,” says Monique Moreau, a vice-president at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “Among all the changes and government regulations,” she says, “data breach reporting requirements are not going to be top of the list.”

She gives the example of an theoretical local, small business such as a bicycle shop, that likely emails its existing customers a few times a year, to alert them of new sales. Previously, that store likely didn’t have to think very much about what email service they were using, or where the credit card data was being stored from any sales they conducted online.

“But now these guys are going to take the fall because the email service they were using got hacked,” she says.

“They are going to learn the hard way if something happens.”

Rick Costanzo is CEO of Rank Software, an Ottawa-based digital security firm that helps companies stay ahead of cyber threats. While he agrees that far too many companies have ignored data breaches for too long at their peril, that isn’t the case for everyone. In the past 10 months he says his company’s revenues have more than doubled, and he says the looming PIPEDA rules are “a significant reason why customers are reaching out to us.”

“Because it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when you’re going to get hacked.”

While the privacy commissioner’s office calls the new rules a step in the right direction, even they think the rules don’t go far enough — mainly because the office hasn’t been granted powers and resources to enforce them.

By the letter of the new law, the commissioner’s office can only advise organizations to make changes, not penalize companies for failing to comply or alert their customers. 

The law is full of imprecise language, such as alerting Canadians that their data has been exposed only “as soon as feasible” after a “real risk” of “significant harm” has been detected, which makes it likely some incidents will be reported too slowly or not at all.

Canadian companies spent $14 billion on cybersecurity last year, but one in five of them was still hit by a breach. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

In a release last month, the office of Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien says recent data breaches such as the Equifax hack and events at Cambridge Analytics have made these issues top of mind for Canadians, but lawmakers haven’t followed up that concern with concrete action.

He’s asking for the government to increase his $24 million annual budget by half, money that would go to hire more people to analyze and investigate the influx of breach reports they’re expecting.

“There’s no need to further debate whether to give my office new powers to make orders, issue fines and conduct inspections to ensure businesses respect the law,” Therrien said.

Ale Brown, who provides privacy advice to North American companies in a range of industries through her Vancouver-based firm Kirke Management Consulting, says some companies have been proactive on the file because they see the danger. But the majority have ignored it as long as they can.

“In my experience, what I have found, is that companies do something when they see their bottom line threatened.”

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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