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Three things I’ve learned about the internet, working at CIRA

After six months working at CIRA, I'm a more informed digital citizen.
By Erica Howes
Communications Specialist

After six months working at CIRA, I’m a more informed digital citizen.

We send emails all day and visit websites to check on anything we’re not sure about, but do you ever really stop to think about how it all works? It’s baffling how little some of us understand about the internet – especially since we rely on it every day.

My background is in non-profit communications and community relations, so when I started working at CIRA, it was a bit of a shift in gears. I was quickly immersed in the culture and pace of a tech company

Working at CIRA has given me a bit more understanding behind the internet industry – something that’s often hard to picture. It’s made me more inclined to question privacy and security online. I’d say I’ve changed from a worry-free walrus to a privacy-conscious penguin. What am I talking about? CIRA’s recent survey found that only seven per cent of Canadian internet users say convenience is more important to them than privacy. You can take our quiz to see how privacy conscious you are.

With that in mind, I now feel armed with insight that I can share when conversations come up around cybersecurity or fake news.

Here are the top few things about the internet that I’ve learned while working at CIRA.

How data travels on the internet

Did you know an email to your neighbour might travel through the United States and then come to Canada? I sure didn’t. Talk about taking the long way home!  Given everything I’ve read about surveillance south of the border, I’m not sure I like my emails taking that trip.

But there is a solution: an internet exchange point, or IXP. An IXP is a hub where independent networks can interconnect directly to one another and improve internet performance, security and resilience in a community. That means that email you just sent can go through an IXP in Canada.

I got the opportunity to interview Madeleine Redfern, the mayor of Iqaluit, to learn about the challenges of connectivity in northern Canada. Canadians up north pay $200 for home internet and it’s very slow because it relies on a satellite connection. CIRA is working with partners in Iqaluit to bring an IXP there, which will have an immense impact on the internet in that community.

So, how does the internet work?

Well, it’s complicated. I get to learn more every day from simple diagrams, like this, that is from a blog about the IXP in Iqaluit.


It can still get overwhelming when you realize how much we, as Canadians, rely on this powerful tool we often don’t understand the intricacies of. I understand a fair bit about privacy and cybersecurity, the internet in Canada, and communities that struggle with connectivity and all the barriers that come along with that. I’m proud of the new knowledge I now have.

I am far from any kind of internet expert, but it’s pretty inspiring working in a place surrounded by people who are, and being part of a team dedicated to building a better internet for all Canadians.

Make use of tools to keep your information secure

My first event with CIRA was the annual general meeting in September, where the theme was all about privacy and cybersecurity.

I interviewed expert panelists who were attending the event about their top tips for protecting privacy online, and then followed their recommendations; the most useful of which I’ve found the recommendation to usea password management system, which  stores your passwords in an encrypted format and provides secure access to all info through a master password. As long as you remember the master password, you don’t have to worry about remembering all the others.

An additional feature is that it can generate passwords for you to ensure they’re secure. This revelation will keep you from using the same password (or slight variations of it) for everything.

Join the CIRA team

If learning about technology is something that you’re excited about, apply to join our team. Find out more about our current job openings at Follow the hashtag #WeAreCIRA and stay up to date on our latest news and career opportunities by following on our LinkedIn.  


About the author
Erica Howes

Erica works in corporate communications at CIRA. Her background is in writing and community relations in the non-profit sector. She is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program.