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Cybersecurity and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

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Technology and digital communication have undoubtedly changed thanks to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, technology has adapted to remote models of working, living, and learning to help people stay home more often. On the other hand, COVID-related cybersecurity has become a huge problem, leading some experts to dub the dramatic rise in cyberattacks the Cyber Pandemic.

During the coronavirus pandemic, cybercriminals became more prevalent, increasing security risks across the board. As an individual, what do you need to know about coronavirus and cybersecurity to stay safe online?

Increased cybersecurity threats by working from home

At the beginning of the pandemic, businesses scrambled to stay open while still complying with government lockdown orders. Most weren’t ready for the cyber risks of employees working from home, where networks are less secure than in the office. Cybercriminals and hackers took advantage of this situation to prey on employees who didn’t have adequate cybersecurity knowledge to work from home safely.

Over a year later, some companies have brought their employees back into the office. But many are still using remote or hybrid models, and the pandemic has also encouraged some businesses to go fully remote when they weren’t before. Hopefully by now your company has educated you on how to mitigate risks when clocking in from home, but if not, here are some tips to follow:

  • Get a good antivirus software: It should protect you from zero-day attacks, malware, spyware, viruses, Trojans, worms, and phishing scams.
  • Keep household members away from work data/devices: You don’t want to expose potentially sensitive information to a non-employee, so always lock your device when you’re not using it, or put it in a separate room that you’ve designated as your office.
  • Watch out for your webcam: You’ve probably seen people with tape or post-it notes over the webcam on their laptops. These people aren’t being paranoid — it’s not unthinkable for hackers to access your webcam. When you’re not on video calls, stick something over your webcam to block it, or get a sliding webcam cover.
  • Boost your company VPN: A VPN by itself may not be enough to protect you. When using your company VPN at home, enable the strongest authentication method possible, upgrade to L2TP, change your password frequently, and only use the company VPN for company business.
  • Fortify your network: To make your home WiFi network more secure, create a strong password for your router, change the name of your wireless network to something cryptic, enable encryption at WPA2, limit access to specific MAC addresses, and upgrade your firmware.
  • Ensure video calls are private: Your company should require a password to join your video call, and make sure your video conferencing application is always up to date.

Working from home isn’t the only place you might run into a COVID-19 security risk. Coronavirus scams and cyberattacks are prevalent, preying on vulnerable people who are desperately trying to find information or resources regarding the pandemic.

Below are some of the most common coronavirus cyber scams that occurred in 2020:

  • Fake pandemic maps: Many websites containing what look like official pandemic maps — showing the spread of the virus or people vaccinated — are fraudulent. These sites actually try to inject viruses, malware, and spyware onto your system.
  • COVID phishing emails: Fraudulent emails purporting to be from legitimate organizations will be full of links to websites that supposedly have the latest updates on COVID-19. The links are actually to websites that can infect your device with viruses and malware.
  • Fake online shops: Fraudsters claim to sell “essential” COVID-19 items like hand sanitizer and face masks in online shops, but either deliver fake products or never deliver the products at all.
  • Online gaming scams: Hackers try to grab gamers’ information with phishing scams (sending emails pretending to be associated with a game they play), creating fake versions of real mobile games for users to download and infect their device, or sending fake QR codes over Discord.
  • COVID stimulus and unemployment scams: In the U.S., cybercriminals have been stealing personal information online from individuals to apply for fraudulent unemployment benefits, usually when the targeted person is still employed. Fraudsters took advantage of overworked state unemployment agencies during the pandemic in 2020 and continue to do so in 2021.

In 2021, COVID-related cyber scams have shifted toward vaccines. Some hackers are selling fake vaccination cards or even fake vaccines online. How can you avoid vaccine scams? Follow these tips:

  • You don’t have to pay for a vaccine. Vaccines are not being sold online and if you purchased one and a “vaccine” arrives at your home, do not use it as it could be dangerous.
  • Don’t make a vaccine appointment or get on a waiting list through third-party services. And definitely do not pay to schedule an appointment.
  • You don’t need a COVID test before getting the vaccine. If anyone other than your doctor tells you to get a COVID test right before your shot, (and especially if they ask you to pay), it’s a scam.
  • Beware of fake websites purporting to sell or deliver vaccines.

Staying safe online during COVID-19

You can avoid coronavirus-related scams by remaining skeptical. If a website or deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. As for working at home, take precautions to ensure your network is secure. If your employer hasn’t offered you any guidance on how to connect safely from home, or if you’re self-employed, then the responsibility to secure your data is on you. By being attentive, you can avoid becoming a victim of a COVID-19 cyber scam.

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