SMU In The News Subfeature Technology

Cybersecurity matters more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic

DALLAS (SMU)  The coronavirus pandemic isn’t just a serious threat to people’s health. It’s also giving cybercriminals the perfect opportunity to access your computer and potentially steal sensitive information, warns an SMU cybersecurity expert. 
Mitch Thorntonexecutive director of the Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, said there are a number of factors that make cybersecurity especially important during this virus pandemic. 
“People are going to be spending more time on the Internet because many of us have been asked to do work from home to keep the virus from spreading,” he said.
That means more opportunities for people to download dangerous software that was created by hackers, whether by fake emails that look like they came from work or by bogus ads for online shopping, Thornton said. Employees may also be less familiar with the online software that allow them to communicate with their co-workers from home, increasing the chances they may be tricked by a hacker. 
“People are also going to be interested in reading about the virus, learning about new advances and monitoring where the new cases are happening,” Thornton said. “So the adversaries are likely going to be targeting web pages and emails that offer that kind of content.”
For instance, he said, sending very sensational and possibly untrue new stories can be used to get people’s attention, distract them and prompt them to click on malicious links more quickly. “Imposter emails from authorities and medical personnel will likely also be more prevalent,” Thornton said.
Additionally, several coronavirus-related schemes have emerged to trick the public into downloading software they shouldn’t. But Thornton said there are ways you can keep your computer safe:
  • When you look for information online about the coronavirus, be sure that the sources are trusted. And be on the lookout for websites and emails that are designed to look like legitimate sources but are actually malicious. For example, a website may use a name, look or feel of a legitimate government agency, but have one letter off or a different color from the real website. 
  • Avoid giving personal information online unless you are very familiar with the website. Hackers may try to get your information by creating fake charities asking for donations for COVID-19.    
  • If you’re doing video conferencing for work, take a look at the background that will be appearing behind you. There may be private information that your webcam can pick out, and you can’t be sure who may be watching.  
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