The digital realm has witnessed a boom in activities following the extraordinary lockdown forced by coronavirus pandemic. With people all over the world confined to their homes and disruptions taking over their social and economic relationships, they spend a great deal of time online. The internet has become their main channel to stay connected, interact, remain in touch with the outside world, and work from home.
However, hackers and cybercriminals are out to exploit the increased dependency on digital communication and this has resulted in an unprecedented surge in online scams. From video conferencing and collaboration platforms to online tools used to read, browse, chat, pay and transfer money, and watch videos are now exposed to cyber threats. Phishing email and WhatsApp messages send malicious links to trick you reveal personal info facilitating financial and identity theft. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 15,000 Americans have lost nearly $12 million to coronavirus-related online fraud.
This brings into fore the importance of avoiding getting exposed to these cybercriminals while operating online during the coronavirus lockdown. Here are five tips to help you stay safe online during the quarantine.
1. Focus on Cyber Hygiene
Microsoft has discovered a huge phishing campaign comprising 2,300 pages luring netizens in the name of COVID-19 monetary compensation to share their credentials through a fake Office 365 sign-in page. Facebook has initiated a deceptive advertising lawsuit after it detected practices and software to evade its automated ad review and facilitate deceptive ads on Facebook and Instagram.
All these call for astute cyber hygiene practices, including extra vigilance during online activities to prevent malware, ransomware, phishing attempts, and hacking threats. Make sure to have long and complex passwords. While you should not use the same or identical passwords, keep your system firewall active and have a trusted VPN for internet access. Have a complete anti-virus system protecting against spyware and malware and update it with the latest patches.
Before browsing any new website, check the URL source and ensure all apps and programs have reliable sources. Routers should be securely configured and segmented with firewalls between each of them. You must have in place updated white and black lists and multi-stage authorization for access.
2. Avoid Email Scams
Recently, many were subject to an email malware attack. Emails claiming to be from its foreign ministry and containing a word document installed malware when opened and this allowed remote control of users’ computers by hackers, who stole valuable data and made further attacks. The World Health Organization has also warned netizens of malicious emails being sent in its name. Google reportedly blocked coronavirus-linked 240 million spam messages a day and 18 million spam emails a week.
It is important to avoid any such COVID-19-linked suspicious email and attachments it carries. Make it a practice to filter out unsolicited and unverified emails seeking or offering donations, cure, or information that you never sought from any source. Delete them without clicking on links or documents attached to it. Check the domain and source in the email before viewing it. You must not reply to any email with your personal information.
If an email tries to force or pressure you make a quick decision, evade such an appeal. Take your time to verify before sharing any information.
3. Don’t Fall Prey To Online Shopping Scams
With complete lockdown in force, e-commerce has been the saving grace for many. This spike in online shopping has also increased fraudulent dealings. In the last one month, over 10,000 Instagram accounts selling masks have come up and a majority of them look suspicious.
Consumers in Singapore have lost at least $440,000 to such scams in the last one month. According to a survey, 22% of Americans are targets of COVID-19-linked online frauds.
To protect yourself from any such online shopping scams, you should buy only from reliable, secure, and established sites. Check the seller identity and contact details. It is desirable to research about the shopping website or seller before you place an order. Ensure the URL code is trustworthy and review the domain registration date. Don’t be swayed away by offers that allow discounts above 50% of the price. An ultra-low offer could be a trap. While you should pay only through a secured means, you should also check your statement regularly.
4. Look For Emerging Work-From-Home Threats
Large-scale use of open-source tools and online services to support work from home has brought new security challenges. Right from risky user behavior impacted by stressors to unsecured data transmission, there are multiple factors providing ground for cyberattacks. Watching porn on the same system that you use to work from home makes it vulnerable to hacking, as porn sites are a perfect tool for hackers to spread malware.
It is better to avoid cloud-based, open-source tools while working for home. Hackers are offering Zoom exploits to hack and spy on users for money. Kaspersky Labs has detected more than 12,000 malware and adware intended to steal information on video telephony and chat platforms, such as Skype, Zoom, Slack, etc. Many corporations, including Google, have banned its employees from using Zoom citing security issues.
To remain on the safe side, you should look for any strange pop-ups or programs not installed appearing on your screen. Upgrade your home Wi-Fi protocol to WPA-2. Pay attention to eliminate deceptive emails and avoid clicking on suspicious links.
It is advisable to use different systems for professional and personal use. The more programs a system carries, the higher is its vulnerability. Don’t keep your info on the system you work on and back up your data securely. Any attack on your business or office network may result in the stealing of your data.
5. Practice Safe Search
When you search online, you run the risk of going into malicious websites and clicking harmful links. This is more widespread as you frantically search for financial help or cure for COVID-19 or online jobs. Hackers use social engineering to manipulate your psychology and cajole you to share information, money, or access. As you search for the recent spike in the coronavirus epidemic, a map with a hidden malware may appear. As you download the map, the malware facilitates hackers’ access to your system.
To mitigate such risks, practice safe search. Pay attention to dubious content, sites, and links and avoid falling into the trap. Whether using your smartphone, laptop, or on social media, keep the privacy setting on. Use only a secure VPN connection and avoid downloading from any source except those trusted and secured. Turn on personal firewalls, disable Bluetooth when not in use, and make sure the end-point security tool has the latest capabilities.
COVID-19 and consequent cyberattacks are a challenge. Only the thorough adherence to the security culture and best online safety practices can help you overcome it.