Security News

Be vigilant about performing ‘security hygiene’ during coronavirus threat

Avast Security News Team, 12 March 2020

Consumers should seek out information based on science and not just personal testimonies.

Many of the news stories discussing the global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus rightly stress the importance of practicing protective measures such as vigorous hand washing and avoiding crowded events. Authorities roundly agree that proper hygiene and adherence to your national health authorities such as the CDC is critical to containing the spread of the deadly virus.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus scare is posing other risks – some directly, others indirectly related to COVID-19. Consumers hell-bent on gathering the latest information about virus-protection techniques are being warned about phishing scams that prey on their fears. Workers holed up in home offices face ongoing threats from hackers looking to poke holes in the patchwork of home and workplace security defenses.

“It’s always important to keep our guards up, to protect ourselves against security threats,” said Martin Hron, senior researcher at Avast. “Just like we need to pay attention to our own hygiene during times like these, we should maintain a high level of security hygiene to ensure we’re keeping our risk levels low.”

Virus-related scams are on the rise. State attorneys general have put out notices to watch for illegitimate investment schemes and websites advertising coronavirus “miracle products” or vaccines. Consumers should seek out information based on science and not just personal testimonies.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning about phishing emails being sent by hackers posing as WHO representatives. The agency is getting regular reports of coronavirus-related phishing attempts.

The Secret Service recently issued a warning about phishing scam from people purporting to be from a medical organization offering information regarding the virus. Clicking on a link could infect your computer. The agency called the coronavirus outbreak “a prime opportunity for enterprising  criminals because it plays on the basic human conditions … fear.”

As more regions declare states of emergency in response to the coronavirus, workers that haven’t spent time working remotely suddenly have to reacquaint themselves with VPNs and document-sharing tools. Corporate remote-work rules can – and should – be stringent. Workers should review key practices with IT before embarking on long, and perhaps open-ended, remote periods.

Other corporate security measures could include the following:

  • Arm employees with a list of phone numbers, so they can reach out to a human from their IT team or other responsible person in case they have any IT issues.
  • Inform employees of the hardware, software, and services they can utilize that are not company issued, but could help to connect and share files with colleagues during the special circumstances.
  • Lay ground rules for employees when it comes to using personal hardware while working from home, such as printers.
  • Enforce two-factor authentication wherever possible to add an extra layer of protection to accounts.
  • Make sure employees have limited access rights and can only connect to the services they need for their specific tasks, rather than giving employees access to the entire corporate network.

Other potential risks tie back to actual hygiene itself. Workers operating remotely in regions affected by the coronavirus have been trained to scrub their hands and cover their mouths to stop the spread of disease. But are they paying the same attention to their technology devices themselves? Phones, laptops, tablets and IT remotes can transmit viruses if they’re not properly wiped down.

“We have to be vigilant, to be sure we’re protecting ourselves in every facet of our lives,” Hron said.