Montana Public Radio

Beware Of Cyber-Attacks Exploiting COVID-19 Fears

Mar 9, 2020

Add one more item to your precautionary novel coronavirus checklist: good cybersecurity habits. Officials say more malicious cyber-attacks are surfacing to capitalize on the anxiety associated with the spreading COVID-19 illness.

Pop quiz:

You get an unexpected email from your boss, she’s calling an all-hands meeting to discuss how the company would respond to a hypothetical COVID-19 diagnosis in the office. All you have to do is click on a link to settle on a convenient meeting time. Good idea, right?

"Absolutely not," says Renae Scott, the University of Montana’s Chief Information Officer.

"First, I pick up the phone and call my boss and say, 'This email came out about this all hands-on deck meeting?'"

Scott says that one little extra confirmation could prevent a major headache. That’s because hackers are now working overtime to exploit the anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. They want your money and personal data.

Scott distributed an email to the UM community this weekend warning of the heightened risk of scams and cyber-attacks.

"Because at times like this when there’s a crisis, I think there’s malicious actors that prey on people’s fears. They know people want all the information they can get about the coronavirus, or COVID-19. And so they’re going to send whatever they can to try to lure someone into taking the bait."

The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency urges Americans to be particularly skeptical of any unsolicited email with a COVID-19 or coronavirus-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink. The same goes for social media charitable pleas, texts or phone calls related to the disease. Also, backup your data. If your computer gets hijacked, you’ll be glad you did.

UM’s Renae Scott urges everyone to always practice safe digital habits even during the best of times, and especially so now.

"Even if it’s from your mother, don’t just click on something. Call mom and say 'Hey, did you send me a video about a cat dancing?'"