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COVID-19: Getting emails with exciting offers on groceries? Here's why you shouldn't open them

These are stressful times. Unfortunately, this is also the best case scenario for a cyber criminal.

March 27, 2020 / 01:48 PM IST

COVID-19 is a global disruption unprecedented in many ways. Especially so because of the presence of social media that has made the availability of information very easy.

"Other events like the 9/11 and subprime crisis also had a huge impact. But there was no, or little, social media at those times," says Tarun Bhatia, MD, and Head of South Asia for Business Intelligence and Investigations at Kroll.

While social media has been helpful, the problem is this. "People now are overinformed, and in most cases, misinformed," says Bhatia. On top of that, working from home means that data flow is high, systems are under stress and many a place, data is being compromised.

"These are circumstances that are a best-case scenario for cybercrime. Fraud goes up in times of distress," says Bhatia, who has been advising companies on risk management for two decades.

So how can individuals and companies ensure cyber safety? What should they be wary of while looking for information on COVID-19, or opening up company systems while working from home?

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Bhatia suggests the following steps. First for individuals.

1. Know this. As everyone is looking for information, be it COVID-19 or on buying essentials, criminals will set up new platforms that will promise to give information. Once consumers get on to these platforms, cybercriminals will breach your system.

2. Are you getting emails from unknown ids giving information on COVID-19? Do these emails have subject lines like "WHO recommendations to fight COVID-19? Or, "This is what PM Modi has said?"

You click the link in the mail, go to the site and realise it's bunkum. You close the window.  You are safe?

No. "The cybercriminal just needs that click to get into your system. Don't open emails from unknown or suspicious ids," says Bhatia.

3. These are times when many are losing jobs, livelihoods. Those who can, are also helping out. But beware whom you send money to.

"These are the times when many charitable organisations crop up, claiming they help the poor or the jobless. Do a thorough check before donating them money," says Bhatia.

That's because you don't know where the money is going to flow and if while making payments online, your data is being breached.

4. Most of us are stressed about getting the essentials. Nearly all online e-commerce platforms are sold out. It's thus natural to be excited when you get a message or email about a new shopping platform that promises these essential items.

Avoid, says Bhatia. "Now is not the time to try out new vendors and new online shopping platforms," he adds.

5. As one works from home and saves documents and other info on the laptop and desktop, there is a risk of those being compromised. "Don't save information on desktops beyond a point," says Bhatia.

Now companies. Their systems are under stress, as employees work from home and some firms may open up their backends to ease traffic.

Not good.

"Companies should allow employees to work only through VPN, and work through a secured network," says Bhatia.
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Mar 27, 2020 01:06 pm

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