on April 24th, 2020

The threat of the coronavirus pandemic has sent most of the world into lockdown. As a result, many of us are relying on the Internet to stay connected. As schools and workplaces continue to encourage working from home, an increasing amount of sensitive and personal data is making its way online, meaning now is the time to make sure both you and your computer are keeping safe. 

Due to the high Internet usage across the globe, Internet hackers are increasingly able to exploit networks during this time of crisis. Ranging from spreading false information online to sending fake pandemic warnings directly to your inbox, scammers and hackers are embracing a whole new toolbox of possibilities. 

Multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky, recently reported that on 12 March 2020, Australia saw 248,864 network attacks or data breaches. This is an increase of 284% when compared to just four days earlier on 8 March, where 64,690 attacks were reported.

With digital communications now more important than ever for the continuation of company operations across the globe, hackers are ready to see what network breaches they can exact on the unsuspecting digital public. 

Key websites that inform the public have already become a focus. Worldometers.info — which many people use for updates on coronavirus statistics — was hit with what the owners of the site called a ‘malicious act.’ 

The US Department of Health and Human Services website was also a target of a denial of service attack. Thus, information the public depended on was momentarily disrupted. Social engineering cyber-attacks are occurring too. Email malware was recently being sent around disguised as important information on COVID-19 from official health agencies. Unsuspecting people opened what they thought was useful information regarding the coronavirus pandemic and instead had their personal data stolen. 

Hackers are on the lookout to see how they can profit off of a crisis and swindle companies and people out of their data. And it is clear to see that they will try every avenue — no matter how big or how small — to try and garner some profits out of this crisis and sow societal discord. 

How to fight back and how to help 

The World Economic Forum has a good 3-step system to ensure you stay safe online during this time. Algirde Pipikaite, a Project Lead in Governance and Policy at the WEF, and Nicholas Davis, a Visiting Professor in Cybersecurity at the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy write: 

1.    Step up your cyber hygiene standards: Check that you have a long, complex router password for your home wifi and that system firewalls are active on your router. Ensure you’re not reusing passwords across the web (a password manager is a great investment) and use a reliable VPN for internet access wherever possible. 

2.    Be extra vigilant on verification: Be far more careful than usual when installing software and giving out personal information. Don’t click on links from email. When signing up to new services, verify the source of every URL and ensure the programmes or apps you install are the original versions from a trusted source. Digital viruses spread much like physical ones; your potential mistakes online could very well contaminate others in your organization, an address book or the wider community. 

Organizations are encouraging their workers to activate two-factor authentication on their work systems that they are logging into from home. This forces a user to put their password in, and give a second layer of authentication before being let in to their employers’ system. This gives a company peace of mind, knowing that no bad actors are logging into their systems and stealing any data - especially while many are working from home. 

3.    Just as you pay attention to trusted sources of data on the spread and impact of COVID-19, be sure to update your system software and applications regularly to patch any weaknesses that may be exploited. If at any stage you feel that the advice you’re being given sounds bizarre - whether the virus threat is offline or digital - search the Internet to see whether others have similar concerns and look for a well-known site that can help verify the legitimacy of the information. 

Seemingly, the world’s preparedness for real viruses and digital viruses is being tested during this coronavirus pandemic. The lessons learned during this time will put the world of engineering in good stead in the future. The protection of key resources and infrastructure underpinned by developed cybersecurity strategy will now forever be of vital importance. 

Works Cited
“Live Coronavirus Updates: US and Global News on COVID-19.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 26 March. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/live-blog/coronavirus-updates-senate-white-house-reach-deal-2-trillion-stimulus-n1169196/ncrd1169696#liveBlogHeader.

Pipikaite, Algirde, et al. “Coronavirus Pandemic: Why Cybersecurity Matters.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-cybersecurity/.

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