STAY SAFE – ONLINE – DURING COVID-19

| May 01, 2020 | |

Staying safe during this COVID-19 pandemic means more than wearing a face mask or social isolating. It also means protecting our data, our information and our children as we spend increasing amounts of time online for work, school and play.

In early March, as the pandemic was unfolding, cybersecurity company Proofpoint warned that cybercriminals had begun seizing on coronavirus fears by using online scams to extract internet users’ personal and financial information. Using email, texts or social media, the scammers were claiming to provide coronavirus awareness, sell virus prevention products and/or ask for charitable donations.

Proofpoint told Computer Weekly that the total volume of phishing emails and other security threats related to COVID-19 is “largest coalescing of cyber attack types around a single theme that has been seen in a long time, and possibly ever.”

In addition, as children are spending more time online taking classes and socializing, they are vulnerable to predators and exploitation, warns the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Learn about the protections offered by cable broadband providers, as well as steps you can take to safeguard yourself, your children, your network and your information.


Customer online safety and privacy are priorities for the cable industry because we are the leading broadband provider, with about two-thirds of all high-speed internet subscribers, and because we have made a commitment to our customers to protect their data and keep their connections safe.

Even before COVID-19 moved so much of our lives online, an estimated 77% of Americans reported going online every day, with about 30% saying they were “almost constantly” online. In addition, consumers were connecting nearly 15 devices to the internet – 1.4 billion connected devices in all, most of which rely on Wi-Fi, reports NCTA – The Internet & Television Association (NCTA).

Cybersecurity and privacy risks have long been a public concern – 85% of consumers responding to a PwC survey in fall 2017 said they were among the biggest threats facing society.

Cable providers have security operation teams that work 24×7 to monitor and act upon threats. In addition, “Internet providers are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency via the communications information security analysis center (ISAC) to stay informed of the latest threat information,” said Matt Tooley, NCTA’s vice president of broadband technology.

NCTA notes that cable internet service providers also offer an abundance of free anti-virus software, security products, and services designed to safeguard users and their personal information, while sending them alerts of dangers lurking online.

The cable industry also taps its technology expertise to develop new protection products, including through its research and development consortium, CableLabs. CableLabs develops both mitigation and prevention tactics. One product under development is Micronets, which will be part of the “next generation” internet of 10G technology. CableLab says Micronets “manages all of the user’s devices and connections, monitors traffic flow and autonomously addresses security vulnerabilities.”


What you can do to stay safe

At school, students were protected while online by school networks that used filters, blacklists or other tools that restricted access to certain online content or specific websites, points out two college professors writing for The Conversation website.

Those protections are absent with kids doing their schoolwork on home networks. Now it’s up to parents to monitor and provide safeguards.

Some privacy issues with certain video conferencing platforms used to teach classes online have been publicized, and the FBI reported it received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.  One of those widely used platforms, Zoom, has issued advice on ways users can protect themselves, including how to keep crashers out of an event. It also updated its privacy policy for K-12 schools and districts.

These security concerns have spurred some school districts to ban the use of certain platforms. Further, it emphasizes the need for parents to be proactive.

Consider adopting the following recommendations from the industry:

In light of COVID-19, Comcast recently published a list of tips and recommendations to keep your internet connection and data safe and secure:

  • Be wary of coronavirus-specific emails and websites.
  • Don’t share personal information.
  • Scrutinize senders and trust your instincts.
  • Be wary of requests for “urgent action.”
  • Take steps to secure your home network.
  • Protect yourself with extra layers of security with tools such as multifactor authentication.

CableLabs offered some internet and computer security recommendations to keep individuals safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Be careful when installing new games/apps on phones and computers.
  • Beware of COVID-19 scams.
  • Never click on email links.
  • Verify financial transactions with a phone call.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if possible.
  • Update software.
  • Don’t use the same password on multiple websites.
  • Turn off automatic content recognition.

NCTA’s Tooley also recently provided some expert advice on how to stay safe online, including how to make home broadband networks safer. His list includes:

  • Make sure all your devices including the home gateway/router all have the latest software.
  • Unplug optional Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
  • Make sure your home router isn’t still using its default username and password.
  • Turn on Wi-Fi encryption.
  • Make sure you have authorized all devices that are connected to your home Wi-Fi.
  • Change your Wi-Fi password.

The FBI recommended the following to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats:

  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. Require a meeting password or control the admittance of guests.
  • Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
  • Manage screensharing options. In Zoom, change screensharing to “Host Only.”
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications.
  • Ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security.

Consumer resources:

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