How the pandemic affects our online privacy

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The global health crisis has given rise to many difficult challenges that affect multiple aspects of our lives. In addition to alarming health concerns and a devastating number of people who suffer physically from the virus, the world economy has taken quite a hit as well. Retailers are forced to rethink supply chains that until now relied on China, businesses and individuals must prepare themselves for a possible recession, and companies discover a new manpower challenge every morning due to workers’ possible exposure to the virus.

But another interesting aspect to examine has to do with the influence of this outbreak on our online data. The need for isolation has brought a new dependency on technology tools, which may minimise our risk of COVID-19 exposure, but at the same time can affect our level of exposure to certain online threats. For businesses and people looking to protect their personal information during this crisis, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.

Hackers are thriving

For heartless hackers, this widespread crisis presents an opportunity. The change in people’s routine behavior and the overall sense of panic we witness in some areas has made the public more vulnerable, a situation that hackers are happy to exploit.

Since the crisis began, more than 4,000 domains related to the coronavirus have been registered, with 10% already identified as malicious or suspicious, including a fake “medical form” that has been circulating online.

In China, more than 7,500 coronavirus-related fraud cases have been reported since late February. With cybersecurity professionals absent, banks have already warned about a rise in possible attacks, and these are only the most recent reports.

Moving online

The concept of remote work is nothing new, and many companies around the world have been implementing it for years in order to boost the coveted work-life balance. For employees working for businesses that have yet to embrace this new approach, the virus and health instructions following it may have given a much-needed nudge in the right direction. 

But some of us feel that working from home is the ultimate dream, for cybersecurity policy experts it is more like a nightmare. Companies find it near impossible to make sure that remote workers comply with security instructions, and have far less control over how they manage their information when working from home.

The transition to online also includes virtual conferences meant to replace physical events that were canceled and webinars instead of classes and meetings. These new steps make it easier for sensitive business information to leak and reach the wrong hands.

Another factor relates to individuals who spend more (or all) of their time at home due to quarantine instructions. They order online instead of leaving home, prepare their emergency stock by boosting their online shopping activity, and are therefore more exposed to the risk of their data being collected and used by corporations and hackers alike.

Sacrificing our privacy in the name of health

In addition to remote work and increased online activity, our online data control has been affected by a new approach towards medical and personal information. Epidemic investigations turned actions that in the past seemed like a blunt violation of privacy into a necessary and understood burden. In an effort to map each patient’s potential spread risk, authorities use information extracted from our smartphones, metro cards, and more. While it’s incredibly important that everyone cooperates with such investigations, it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of our boundaries in the long term.

We see advanced technology like facial recognition (yes, even through masks) and AI being used to support such investigations, and cannot help but wonder what things will look like once everything goes back to normal. Will we find ourselves standing on new ground, where using such tools to track civilian behavior is the norm? Some might say that we are already there, but it seems that our willingness to share personal and medical information combined with innovative technology still poses new risks.

Approaching the situation in a healthy way

Since the answer is never to get off the grid, we simply have to remember what’s important to us and make sure that the safe boundaries we strive for remain the goal after the global emergency is over. At the same time, we must embrace precautions to protect not only our health but also our information, and think twice before sharing personal data with unknown sources.

The bright side to this awful reality is that we now understand how things spread. There are some similarities between a contagious virus and the lack of data control, in the sense that both reach places we never would have imagined, and both need our close attention in order to prevent a disaster.

Gal Ringel is Co-Founder and CEO of Mine.

Gal Ringel

Gal Ringel is the co-founder and CEO of Mine.