COVID-19 AND YOUR INFORMATION/ DATA SECURITY

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At these unprecedented times working from home has become the norm for employees to maintain the demands of social distancing. Today’s video conference tools like Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, etc. have become the only way of meeting with groups in industries, organizations, and schools. Occasioned by this pandemic the volume of traffic on the internet went beyond the level anyone could have ever predicted. The Internet is not without serious security implications and challenges as it becomes the brain wire connecting all people at these unprecedented times. Many web conferencing tools, like Zoom, have risen up to the challenge of ensuring better security features on their platforms, to ensure privacy, confidentiality and to protect data breaches. This period is a very fertile one for any black hat guy (hackers and fraudsters) who exploit not only vulnerabilities in the communication software to lure their victims; they also exploit the trend of disillusionment, fear, and poverty which are due to unemployment. The curiosity of many requesting information updates on this novel coronavirus is also targeted by these hackers. It is, therefore, a matter of urgency and precaution for everyone, especially those who telecommute or rely on any form of internet services, to be over security conscious by treating every form of information with the utmost suspicion. Some of the worst data breaches like that of Equifax in 2017 could have been prevented if appropriate security measures were taken.

Here are some practical things you need to take note of:

Let me start with your HOME ROUTER since it is your access point to the internet and to your company’s website.

Change your router password especially if you are still using the default password or a weak password. Make your password stronger by combining letters, numbers and symbols (alphanumeric).

  • Update your router firmware.
  • Enable firewall and/or increase firewall sensitivity.
  • Check DNS settings.
  • Consider using a company provided DNS server or one provided by Google, OpenDNS/Cloudfare, etc.

Do you remember LINKSYS SMART WIFI-ROUTER TAKEOVER? This is what happened.

There was suspected brute-force of passwords used to take over at least 1,200 routers. The DNS settings were changed to redirect the user from legitimate domains to malware-laden, fake coronavirus themed landing pages. They offered a fake “Covid-19 inform app” that infects networks ( Oski malware). Attacks targeted the US and Germany, among other countries. Please ensure your home router is secured.

BEWARE OF PHISHING, MALWARE (e.g Marriott) AND SOCIAL ENGINEERING ATTACKS. They are still the most prominent attack techniques., even at this time of global crisis.

COVID-19 PHISING ATTACKS

General Nature of Phishing Attacks

  • Vet the sender and ensure the mail really originated from CDC, WHO, NHIS or whichever government agency or bank that sends you email.
  • Beware of an artificial sense of urgency. It is always a trick to lure you into a trap.
  • Do not open unexpected attachments. Most of them are infected with a malware that may compromise your system.
  • Forward suspicious emails to the information security team in your organization or to the bank infosec team.

Then, Phising in particular to Covid-19,

  • Watch out for “stimulus offers” or any form of benefits from the government.
  • Expect impersonation of government agencies. So don’t presume it’s the right agency contacting you.
  • There are fake coronavirus websites and maps. Information is stolen on these websites and maps, so beware.
  • There are fake testing kits, vaccines, and cures. The government should give you a physical location where you can get these. Beware of fake offers.

TELECONFERENCING SECURITY ISSUES

It happened that the Zoom iOS app shared data with Facebook without user consent. This is to tell us that you cannot trust these teleconferencing apps fully. Each has its security flaws. I singled out Zoom because it is the most used.The BAD news is that Zoom which controls about 47% of the market has serious security loopholes. Here is what has been said: “Strong encryption, strong privacy controls, strong security- just seemed to be completely missing…” Patrick Wardle former NSA security researcher. The FBI also warns of teleconferencing and online classroom hijacking during the Covid-19 Pandemic and threatens jail time

Don’t be afraid here is what you need to do when using Zoom.

Top recommendation for using Zoom:

  • Disable “Join before Host”.
  • Enable “only Authenticated users”.
  • Require a meeting password.
  • Generate meeting ID’s automatically.
  • Limit chat options (Disable, limit to Host-only, limit to everyone publicly and/or privately)
  • Enable waiting room.
  • Restrict screen sharing to host only.
  • Lock meeting after all participants have arrived.
  • Block annotations.
  • Mute and /or remove participants as needed.

IF YOU ARE AN ORGANIZATION, IMPLEMENT ZERO TRUST SECURITY

Zero trust security means that no one is trusted by default from inside or outside the network, and verification is required from everyone trying to gain access to resources on the network. This added layer of security has been shown to prevent data breaches. So, organizations and industries should require everyone to verify his or her identity and authenticate themselves before access is granted. No more privileges on network login or Saas site. A perimeter-less model is best suited to a remote distributed workforce.

In the midst of Covid-19 organizations have needed increase for VPN server capacity. In a pure zero trust model, no VPN is needed.

If you have sensitive data on your system or phone, whether as an individual or organization, consider leveraging cloud services for better data security.

Security is a priority in our age especially at these critical times when many are unemployed and hungry. Therefore, safeguard your sensitive information, data and money before you become a victim. Please seek information from those who know better than you when you are confronted with a security issue and make all your passwords stronger. Don’t let greed rob you of your life savings or privacy.

Special acknowledgment to Stanford University online Cybersecurity and Covid-19 webinar 4/12/2020 that inspired this article and from whom I borrowed some ideas in this write-up.

Stay safe. We care about you.

@Clem Aladi.

I recommend you watch these videos below. 👇

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