Online Protection for COVID-19: How safe are you?

August 6, 2020

The importance of maintaining social and physical distancing to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic has made many rely on phones, laptops and other devices to stay connected. While the presence of consumers to do their shopping online, zoom for work, webinars for presentations and Moodle for studies, this new normal means options for using physical security alternatives (like simply communicating sensitive information in person rather than online) have diminished. This means more individuals are exposed to cyber-attacks, scammers and hackers who are seeking to exploit the outbreak.

There needs to be a mechanism to assist consumers to effectively assert and protect their rights in the digital world caused by hackers and criminal attacks. For this, consumers should be fully- informed about specific risks and new threats so that they can safeguard their interests when online and they are able to make well- informed decisions.

Here are some of the ways consumers can keep up with protecting themselves from these fraudsters and hackers for financial gain.

Update phone, computer and apps

Consumers should constantly update their devices and programmes ensure that their devices and programmes associated with the internet to reduce the risk of hackers attacking their accounts Old version of apps are more likely to have bugs and can leave consumers’ devices susceptible to virus. According to Amnesty Tech, if consumers using old versions of these apps it is more likely there will be bugs. “You could download a file from the internet, and it could exploit one of these bugs, which is a common way people are attacked,” says Etienne Maynier, Security Researcher at Amnesty Tech. Consumers are advised to use trustworthy software from trustworthy sources, like the Apple Store or Google Play.

Think before you click

Scammers use email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information. They may try to steal consumers’ passwords, account numbers and personal information to access your email and hack into your bank account etc. This is called phishing scam. Consumers should be careful of emails or SMS messages promising new information on the virus can contain malware in links and attachments. This is a typical social engineering strategy used by scammers who reel people in by purporting to be imparting urgent information.

Amnesty Tech also reveals that if the phishing attacks come from cyber criminals, they are most often wanting to access devices so they can steal financial information. They can also use ransomware to lock down the device and try to extort money to unlock it again.

Consumers are advised not to know the person they are not familiar with the organization that has sent the email or message, do not click on the link or open the attachment.

Also look out for anomalies in the way the message is written – often there are typos or the language used sounds off. If the message purports to be from an organization you know, but you are unsure it’s authentic, go to the website rather than opening any information sent in the email.

Protect your privacy

Spending more time online can mean exposing more of your personal information. This is a good time to review your privacy settings.  

Amnesty Tech added that consumers can limit a lot of the data that Google is collecting, such as location information and the history of searches they have done, by disabling that in their Google account “You can’t really control what data Facebook is collecting, but you can control what people see,” the company added.

Connect on video chats safely

Video conferencing such as Zoom and Webinar have exploded during the pandemic as colleagues, family and friends turn to apps which allow large-scale group calls. Not only families and loved ones, work and schools too use this to deliver their work and services.

Questions have been raised over how safe they are – Zoom had to retract a claim that it was end-to-end encrypted and Taiwan has now banned government agencies from using it on privacy and security grounds.

Do a digital spring clean

Getting rid of accounts that you no longer use reduces data exposure. According to Amnesty Tech, by deleting them there is less data on you out there and that reduces privacy risks.

Part of the spring clean should also include installing a password manager which can store all your passwords in encrypted form and generate new unique passwords that are hard to guess.

Consumers’ Rights and Responsibilities

Above all, it is therefore crucial for consumers to understand their rights and responsibilities to mitigate risks to better protect them. Consumers have the rights to:

  • Own their own identity;
  • Privacy and protection against unauthorized use of personal information
  • Safety when online
  • Redress

Further to above, Consumer responsibilities include-

  • Protection of digital identity from unauthorized use
  • Responsible for all actions taken with their digital identity
  • Taking appropriate action as soon as possible after discovering or suspecting that their digital identity has been compromised or if you discover that they lost control of the storage and/or transmission of unlawful material

The Council will continue to advise consumers on their rights and responsibilities. If consumers need Councils assistance then they can visit our offices in Suva, Lautoka and Labasa or call our National Consumers Helpline on toll free number 155 for advice.