As the federal government revs up a public awareness campaign for its new COVID Alert app, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security shared a warning about scam messages related to the app.
Details recently emerged about the government’s plan to spend up to $10 million on a public awareness campaign to encourage Canadians to download its new COVID Alert app. While sending text messages to Canadians wasn’t explicitly mentioned as part of the plan, it should be no surprise. The government previously partnered with carriers to communicate essential details about COVID-19, including to Canadians abroad.
Unfortunately, with text communication comes the risk of fake messages and scams. The Centre for Cyber Security tweeted examples of legitimate government messages on iOS and Android to help Canadians tell the difference between real and fake messages.
Further, the Centre advised Canadians to watch out for spelling mistakes, requests for personal info, urgent or threatening language and suspicious links. Any or all of those could indicate an illegitimate message.
#CyberAlert | Did you receive an #SMS encouraging you to download the #COVID Alert app? Did it look like this?
*This* text is legitimate, but others may not be. Beware of:
⚠️requests for personal info
⚠️suspicious links pic.twitter.com/JNG0ik80KR
— Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (@cybercentre_ca) August 6, 2020
The Centre followed up the warning tweet with another that says the government will “never send you messages asking you to click on links or to provide personal information.” Additionally, it encouraged Canadians to stay vigilant and only download trusted apps from official app stores.
It’s important to note that neither of the example texts include download links — instead, they direct Canadians to head to the App Store or Play Store and search for COVID Alert.
How COVID Alert works
Currently, COVID Alert is available for download across Canada. However, Ontario is the only province issuing the one-time codes necessary to trigger alerts. In brief, COVID Alert works by trading anonymous identifier codes over Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). Your phone stores a local list of these codes, a record of sorts of potential exposure to other people. If you test positive for COVID-19, you’ll receive a one-time code you enter into COVID Alert that uploads the exposure list.
Other phones with COVID Alert access the list and check for matches between the anonymous identifier codes. If there’s a match, the owner of that device was likely exposed to COVID-19 by the uploader. The app suggests next steps, such as quarantining or getting a test.
The government expects more provinces to join the COVID Alert effort and has indicated Atlantic Canada will be the next to start using the app.
Those interested can learn more about the inner workings of COVID Alert here.