Fight Cyber Viruses the Way We Fight COVID-19

Posted by graham.westbrook
April 13, 2020

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All viruses, cyber and biological, are known for spreading quickly and causing harm. The word virus actually stems from a root word meaning ‘poison,’ like the venom of a snake. This poison is good at only one thing: attacking the protection mechanism of its host. 

To counteract SARS-COV2 (the virus part of COVID-19, the disease), there are simple lessons that people around the world are learning about hygiene, applying these lessons to viruses and cyber viruses they encounter everyday. Think of this as a refresher on hygiene and a lesson on cyber hygiene! By sticking to simple, powerful principles of hygiene, countries around the world can eliminate barriers that stand between them and international collaboration. 

The World United in Fighting the Pandemic

The world is now realizing how important it is to work together to fight a common enemy. Many countries are even collaborating to develop vaccines against the virus. Doctors from less affected areas are travelling to the places where they can help fight the infection. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations are teaming up to share a unified message – stay at home, be safe, avoid gatherings. 

Cyber security is higher on the United Nations’ agenda than it’s ever been. And countries must work together to fight cyber viruses and make cyber attacks less lucrative for cyber criminals. 

Not long ago, Mr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director General said: “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.” He was referring to fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than a virus.” This includes cyber criminals who are exploiting the current crisis by creating fake coronavirus news, selling fake coronavirus cures online or attacking hospitals’ critical information systems. 

Taking care of hygiene and cyber hygiene is more critical than ever. It is heartwarming that so many people and countries around the world take these two issues so seriously and show solidarity in their actions. 

Fighting Viruses Together is exactly the message we need to unite against our common enemies. 

Coronavirus vs Cyber viruses

Coronavirus has now impacted nearly every country in the world. A biological virus does not discriminate against ethnicity, geographic location or socio-economic status. Its spread is so dynamic because global interconnectedness has always led to physical interaction, often between people who don’t practice proper hygiene. In doing so, people have unknowingly spread the virus further and further beyond the containment of any one government. 

Coronavirus, or SARS-COV2, is very much like a cyber virus in this sense. A cyber virus spreads fast and does not discriminate. It also thrives upon bad cyber hygiene and spreads faster by leveraging bad habits people have with leaving sensitive data exposed, personal devices unprotected or using untrusted WiFi. 

Hygiene and Cyber Hygiene

“Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze, stay at home when you are unwell” – these are just some of the important messages that the World Health Organization dispenses everyday. These are simple measures, but not necessarily easy in practice. When embraced by all people around the world, they can significantly limit the outreach of coronavirus and other nasty viruses out there. When ignored, they can help the virus spread exponentially faster. 

In the cyber world, there are some very similar tips we should follow to maintain our computing systems health and improve our online security. Again these rules are simple, not easy. We often neglect them or forget about them because they take a little extra energy and time. But when we embrace them, we develop a cyber immune system that is hard to beat. Here are a few cyber hygiene hacks we recommend:

  • Set strong and complex passwords and change them periodically, sometimes changing them more frequently if you hear of a data breach on one of your account providers;
  • Update software and firmware whenever you get an alert, instead of hitting ‘ignore’ or ‘try again tomorrow’;
  • Install antivirus programs on your devices to catch known strains of malicious software, or ask your organization about providing “endpoint” protection automatically;
  • Back up your data regularly to both physical devices and cloud storage applications;
  • Connect to trusted WiFi (not public WiFi or your neighbor’s WiFi), and use a VPN wherever possible;
  • Make cyber hygiene a part of your routine so it becomes a habit and not a chore;
  • Ask about training if you want to learn more on how to protect you and your family!



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