Are we prepared for a cyber-pandemic? Cyber Aware’s safety-advice for Privacy Awareness Week

Despite decades of warnings and best advice from leading scientific bodies, no one was adequately prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In many parts of the world, businesses have shut-down entirely, health-care has been utterly over-run, the economy has shifted and people have frequently lost not only their jobs but regrettably, many have also lost their lives.

The one saving grace of all this (asides from the amazing, adaptive public response) has been our technology; the ability to take our work home and to broadcast key information to the masses at an instant.

However, what if we had a similar situation to the current pandemic, without the ability to fall back on our tech?

Experts have been forecasting global cyber-crisis for years, citing wide-spread malware infections, cyber-warfare, and cyber-terrorism not only as serious threats but potential doomsday actors.

These concerns are wholly valid, with Donald Trump declaring a state of emergency in response to foreign hackers threatening U.S. power grids only last week!

This might sound like fear-mongering or an excess of the ol’ doom & gloom, but considering the radically increased business & infrastructure reliance on technology during the 2000s, and the fact that over 80-90% of businesses now rely on technology for communications and internal management, the damages of a tech-based pandemic would be catastrophic.

Concerns surrounding a cyber-pandemic started to flow into the mainstream largely following the Stuxnet virus discovery in 2010, in which a powerful computer worm aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities reportedly destroy numerous centrifuges, causing them to burn out.

After being confirmed as an act of war, Stuxnet malware essentially mutated and was found in numerous industrial facilities across the globe.

These kinds of attacks against critical infrastructure continue as recently as November of 2019, in which India’s largest nuclear power plant suffered a serious cyber attack.

The problem with cybercrime is that it’s ludicrously cheap and effective, that it essentially trumps all other forms of crime & warfare. Why build a multi-million dollar fighter jet if the enemy can shut it down at the flick of a switch? Why build a steady source of income when I can phish hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas, without being detected?

Considering the fragility of our healthcare, public services, and economy during this pandemic, both infrastructure and businesses alike are more vulnerable to cybercrime than arguably ever before.

Last year, we saw Victorian hospitals become the victim of a crippling ransomware infection that severely disrupted multiple regional hospitals & caused numerous patients to miss critical surgeries and appointments.

Given how easy it was for such a significant attack to occur, can you imagine the current threat on overloaded healthcare systems if similar attacks or a more intentional, targetted attack were to occur during this pandemic?

Furthermore, cyber-warfare and cybercrime are both continuing a steady increase on a yearly basis. Given the number of vulnerabilities opening up as a result of COVID-19 (such as the loss of security during the shift to remote working) 2020 is forecast to see an even larger boom in cybercrime.

While most of us are likely outside of the realm of influence for cyber warfare & cyber terrorism, there is plenty we can do to ensure that our own technology is safe from malware infection and criminal activity.

Three major ones you can do right now are some of the tried and true cyber-basics, such as:

  • Password Hygiene: The first barrier between you and a hacker is your password, so treat it with some care. Many of us are still using the same old password across multiple key systems. Now more than ever: Change. Your. Passwords! We recommend passphrasing as a secure option moving forward.
  • Using Two-Factor Authentication: Two-factor is essentially the second barrier to stop an attack in the event that your password is cracked. Many login systems make two-factor compulsory, and practically all social media, emails & work-systems can have it enabled. Turn on two-factor on all key logins.
  • Keeping an eye out for email & SMS scams: Phishing is still the leading method used by cyber-criminals. It didn’t take long for attackers to piggyback on COVID-19 to launch new scams, even going as far as posing as the AusGov.

If you haven’t brushed up on email safety this year, please have a read of these StaySmartOnline tips for a quick refresher.

For more information on cyber safety during the pandemic, visit!

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