The COVID-19 outbreak has not only caused a global pandemic, it has also provoked an unstoppable spread of online disinformation. Misleading data, fake news, info manipulation and conspiracy theories trick people into an endless and irrational search for new information. Beyond undermining trust in public response to the outbreak, this “infodemic” has exacerbated the frequency and opportunity for cyberattacks.
‘Infodemic’: an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
Infodemics are not a new phenomenon. Several disinformation campaigns prevailed during the chaos of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the Ebola outbreak and the Zika epidemic.
Disinformation, fake news, hate speech, info manipulations and conspiracy theories facilitate cyberattacks and undermine democracy, which affects everybody.
In the physical world, countering COVID-19 requires the respect of two basic rules: adhering to strict personal hygiene and protecting the community through collective action. Essentially, it is more about having the right mindset rather than the right technical skills. It is exactly the same online. We launched the social media campaign to promote responsible behavior in cyberspace: Defending your home against cyberattacks. It can be child’s play.
Stop! Investigate! Contain! Report! These steps can be followed by any digital citizen, and when operationalized can reduce the spread of cyber operations.
STOP: Be a cyber watchdog – stop the threat!
Malware can hide inside a message, an image, a link or an attachment — in email, text message, group chats… wherever you receive them. Don’t click on links that come from unknown or unusual sources. Don’t open attachments from unfamiliar senders or if the subject line is questionable. Don’t open pictures or play videos without verifying files with antivirus software.
INVESTIGATE: Be a cyber analyst – validate the source!
Knowing the sender doesn’t mean that the message is safe as it could still carry malware. Do a quick search to cross-reference the claims via multiple sources. When possible, trace them back to the original source. Ask yourself: why did I receive this, did I initiate this conversation? If not, don’t open it. Be extra cautious if the text feels machine-translated, has typos or poor grammar.
CONTAIN: Be a cyber citizen – keep your community safe!
The rule of thumb: if you are not sure about the content, don’t share it. Don’t spread anything that doesn’t add up, it could lead to cyberattacks. Don’t re-tweet or forward anything you don’t trust. It may not seem like it, but these actions help to facilitate cyberattacks. Don’t be the one who spreads the virus.
REPORT: Be a cyber guardian – report the attacks!
Cyberattacks happen every day and most of them are never reported. Don’t let the bad guys get away with it. Report attacks on official platforms. It prevents others from being targeted. Reports help to build cases against attackers and hold them responsible. Your actions make a difference. Spread the word about good practices.