MONTREAL -- A newly formed cybersecurity collective out of Montreal has developed a free app for smartphone users designed to protect their data from cybersecurity threats.
Dubbed Protection, the app is designed to help users detect security breaches and scam attempts in their emails, texts and other apps, as well as give tips to prevent future hacks.
In a rare collaboration between competing financial institutions, Desjardins Group, National Bank of Canada and Deloitte say they are creating a non-profit organization called CyberEco to combat identity and data theft.
The three companies -- along with engineering firm RHEA Group -- say they are investing several million dollars in the project, which includes a new research chair in cybercrime prevention at the University of Montreal funded by Desjardins and National Bank.
Demand for cybersecurity services has "literally exploded" as hacking attempts become more common, said Deloitte managing partner Marc Perron at a media conference Wednesday.
"Like all companies, we are being attacked," he told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"We see people getting into a system and asking for ransom from a company, or trying to leverage the fact that they took data to get some money out of it," Perron said. "So the question is, how do you protect your system?"
Cyberattacks in Canada and around the world are a growing threat. The Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce both suffered data breaches last May. In late 2017 Equifax announced that a massive data breach compromised the personal information and credit card details of 143 million Americans and 100,000 Canadians.
National Bank president and chief executive Louis Vachon said cybersecurity has mushroomed into a matter of national security, which "could become even more acute in years to come."
Amir Belkhelladi, who runs cybersecurity for Deloitte in Eastern Canada, said CyberEco aims to foster a training space to learn from previous breaches and defend against future ones.
"When you have a fire brigade, they never practise on the fire live in your house; they practise it outside. Yet in cyber, historically, people have been waiting for the attack to respond to it," Belkhelladi said in an interview.
"So far, we're fighting for talent instead of generating the talent," he added.
To expand the talent pool and share more of its technology with the public, CyberEco hopes to draw other major financial institutions to its projects.
Representatives from several banks were on hand at the downtown event in Montreal's Quartier de l'innovation, including Loic Jegousse, head of cyber and IT risk at a BNP Paribas team that launched in Montreal last May. He said the international bank is considering committing staff and cash to CyberEco projects.
"We have been in conversations with CyberEco," he said. "Possibly in the near future we would like to join, because to me it's a great opportunity to tap into a bigger networking group, a bigger set of talent, and an opportunity to collaborate on common problems."