CyberSafety During COVID-19 & Working From Home

In this special #SocialDistancing episode of Factor Analysis, we speak with CyberSecurity expert, Director of ISU’s Information Assurance Center and University Professor Doug Jacobson about the need for extra precaution as the world moves even further online. Dr. Jacobson offers insight and tips on what to be looking for, and how to avoid potentially costly and potentially dangerous mishaps online.

Announcer
Welcome to Factor Analysis, an in-depth conversation of engineering knowledge from the classroom to the field, and topical issues surrounding work and life from an engineer’s viewpoint.

Travis Ballstadt
Welcome to Factor Analysis Unplugged. I’m Travis Ballstadt, and I’m going to be your host today. Today we’re talking with Doug Jacobson. He’s the director of our cyber security program here on campus, and today we’re going to talk about your online safety in the world of coronavirus and why it’s important to remain vigilant about your online safety in these times, we can’t let our guard down. So Doug, talk a little bit about what you’re seeing kind of at the higher level behind the scenes that the public might not see what kind of activity is happening right now?

Doug Jacobson
What we’re seeing is a lot of activity in the in the arena of emails trying to gather data from you, whether it be your personal information, whether it be credit card data, these attackers always play off of current events. And so that hasn’t changed, other than this current event is, is universal. And so we all are in this event together, so it’s easier for them to capitalize on it, because this is a worldwide event. So we’re seeing a lot more of that, what with people being at home. Everybody’s online all the time. Right. And so it makes it you know, it’s much easier for us to be a target of these people.

Travis Ballstadt
Sure. And you talk about the world has basically moved online with everyone social distancing, and trying to stop the spread of this virus. We’ve moved online 95% of our activities, hopefully. You’ve mentioned in the past when we’ve talked some some attacks that take down sections of the internet. That could be a really bad thing if that happened right now. Worse than normal.

Doug Jacobson
Yes. We’re very reliant on the internet and, and we’re on the edge anyway, depending on where you’re at, depending on your connectivity, you may be experiencing shortage or outages or slowdowns that may not be at all part of an attack. But when the internet’s on the edge like it doesn’t take much for an attacker to push it over the edge. The spare bandwidth that we have is quite limited. We’ve seen discussions out there about when you’re doing conference calls or video calls, that not everybody needs to be on the video. And so that’s all efforts to try to reduce the amount of bandwidth that’s being consumed, especially people who live in bandwidth-constrained rural America.

Travis Ballstadt
Talk a little bit about, you mentioned that the hackers the the bad guys are kind of ramping up efforts or focusing efforts on on people’s fears about the virus. What sort of things are they doing? They’re they’re obviously they they’re always out there emailing, fishing for your personal information and passwords, what sort of things should people be looking out for right now?

Doug Jacobson
You should be suspicious of anything that just randomly comes to you. I see emails, buying masks or buying supplies or, you know, as this new stimulus or whatever we’re calling these checks that people are going to be mailed. As that starts to ramp up, we’re going to see lots of emails about “here’s what you need to do to get your money”. “I need this from you to get your money”. So you’ll realize that no legitimate business or government is going to ask you for your personal information, your credit card information, your social security number, bank account information, none of that is ever going to be asked for in an email, or none of that’s ever going to be asked for, we’re going to see phone calls to we’re going to see an increase in not just pure online cyber threats, but we’re going to see those also in in a phone system, and the fact they can spoof telephone numbers, which is a digital thing that’s, that’s a computer thing, that also is going to, we’re going to see a big spike in that once this stimulus package gets approved.

Travis Ballstadt
It’s pretty scary. But it can be avoided if you’re just, if you think before you click. If a cure or a vaccine is found it, they’re not going to email you directly. They’re not going to share it in an image on social media, it’s still going to come through all of the news outlets, regardless of which news outlet you trust. It’s going to come from them. Right?

Doug Jacobson
That’s correct. They’re not going to send you the “Hey, we have a cure” ahead of anybody else. We’re going to learn this from our trusted news sources. My guess is, you know, the moment they do discover something like that, that’ll be breaking news on every television station and then on the planet. We will all know that at the same time there you’re not going to there isn’t going to be this secret thing out there and you know Facebook and those sorts of social media platforms are a great tool for these people to spread this misinformation and to get you to go and buy the “cure” or go to the website with with a “cure” that may contain malicious code or trying to get your information.

Travis Ballstadt
So what would you recommend to the person who’s not, who doesn’t consider themselves computer savvy, who might feel like they’ll be taken advantage of like in this time? What would you recommend to someone for, as far as getting information and not being taken advantage of?

Doug Jacobson
As far as getting the information again, find a couple trusted news sources and you can just go to that with your browser. When you type in cnn.com that will take you to the true cnn site and and you’ll see the little padlock and life is good. So find one or two good news sources that, that you trust and present information in a way that you like to like to get the information. And again, like I said, be leery of anything that gets pushed out to you versus something you go out and actively get yourself. So if you’re the one typing something in the browser and going to a trusted site, you can feel pretty confident that you’re going to get there and get the information that you want, as opposed to just something showing up on your Twitter feed or showing up on your Facebook feed or showing up on an email.

Travis Ballstadt
And a lot of browsers will tell you if you mistyped a common website, and you might be going to a site that’s not the one that your browser thinks you’re going to.

Doug Jacobson
Oh, yeah, yeah, the browser people have done a very good job of trying to increase the security of using your browser. And so if you’re talking about trust, I knew you trust your browser, your trust, which you know, you’re going to type and you go to someplace trusted because that’s all under your control, you’re driving it as opposed to you reacting to somebody doing something. You’re the one that’s in charge.

Travis Ballstadt
One of the things I tell my loved ones is that it’s really easy right now to go straight to the source. So if you don’t feel like you can trust a new site, or if you don’t feel like you can trust people on social media, go to the CDC.gov or go straight to the source of that information, go to the World Health Organization website, and get it straight from the source.

Doug Jacobson
Yes, that’s, that’s great advice. And when you go to the source, again, I encourage people to actually type in the source in their browser versus a link they found on Facebook.

Travis Ballstadt
All of the legitimate sites are capable of constant updates, just like the shady sites. So if you just remember to type in directly cdc.gov it’s a really quick, easy URL to type in. It will take you directly to the source. They’re putting all this critical information right at the front, so you’re not gonna have to go dig through looking for the information that you need to find.

Doug Jacobson
Yeah, and a lot of people will actually put that in there, you know, have their browser remember that tab. So when you, when you turn your computer on in the morning and open your browser, the CDC site will show up as one of the one of the tabs and you know, nothing I kind of caution people a little bit is that you can get like with any event like this, you can get wrapped up where that’s all you’re doing. And we really all need to take a break now and then from this, turn the browser off, turn the TV off and take a break from from all of this.

Travis Ballstadt
Yeah, that could be the best advice from this entire podcast is sometimes you just have to take a breath and step away and trust that the information will still be there when you come back. For your mental health for your online safety. Sometimes it is best to just take a breath.

Doug Jacobson
Yes, yes. Kind of another word, you know, piece of advice is especially those people who who are now finding themselves working at home, having brought home their computer, some work, etc. We talk about social distancing among people I think there’s social distancing among computers that your work computer is your work computer, in your home with your kids and your home with everybody they shouldn’t be on your work computer doing things. So the same type of social distancing we practice as people we need to treat the computer as as another thing we should, certain people should be socially distanced from.

Travis Ballstadt
And also wipe your computer down every now and then.

Doug Jacobson
Yeah, or especially at that and your cell phone your cell phone’s a dirty, cuz it’s designed to be touched.

Travis Ballstadt
Great advice, Doug, thanks for taking the time to to check in with us today.

Doug Jacobson
My pleasure. Everybody, stay safe.

Travis Ballstadt
And that’s gonna do it for this episode of factor analysis. Make sure you click “Subscribe” wherever you listen to podcasts, and we’ll talk to you again real soon.

Announcer
Factor Analysis is produced by Iowa State University’s College of Engineering. For a list of ways to keep up with the college including more podcasts, social media and apps go to engineering.iastate.edu. Music by Lee Rosevere and used under creative commons license.

 

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