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COVID-19 and cybersecurity: What’s the connection?

What do COVID-19 and cybersecurity have in common? In a series of podcasts, security experts discuss how the two sectors affect one another and what can be done to ensure the safety and security of individuals or groups in Europe.

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Security

At first glance, the COVID-19 pandemic and cybersecurity might seem like totally diverse, unrelated areas. However, the overall effects caused by either a pandemic or a cyberattack overlap in the way they affect people, including the feeling of fear and the need to protect oneself and others, as well as loss of health, wealth and privacy. The EU-funded SPARTA project recently launched a special three-part podcast series that explores how COVID-19 and cybersecurity influence one another and the challenges involved in ensuring the safety and security of all concerned.

Unlikely partners

“[W]e’ve been curating data, we’ve been also providing free of charge advice to labs or drugstores for them to properly secure their computers and their information systems because there has been a huge surge [in] cyber criminality during the whole COVID pandemic,” comments Rayna Stamboliyska, Vice-President of Governance and Public Affairs at project partner Yes We Hack in episode 1. Yes We Hack is a network of over 15 000 ethical hackers from around the world who look for vulnerabilities in the cybersystems of organisations and make recommendations on how to fix them. The network has been quite active in auditing security and developing COVID-19-related contact tracing software. Regarding StopCovid, an app that alerts people to the proximity of users who test positive, Stamboliyska points out that there are legitimate concerns about whether the General Data Protection Regulation is being respected with regard to the data protection and privacy of European citizens. “We’ve been fortunate enough and we’re working with a generation of people who have been fortunate enough that you know a pandemic at least in the Western world is something that we hadn’t experienced in a while,” comments SPARTA coordinator Florent Kirchner in episode 2. Lockdown and social distancing have made it necessary for people to communicate in the digital rather than the physical space. A large part of the work in SPARTA has focused on improving and developing tools that can simulate face-to-face interactions in cyberspace safely and securely. This undertaking has proved particularly challenging when addressing more creative modes of communication such as brainstorming.

COVID-19 and cybersecurity join forces

“There is no normal anymore and the faster we can understand and assimilate and adapt to this statement then the better off we will be. So we’ll need to adapt to this and we’ll need to figure out how those creative endeavours such as brainstorming sessions can happen either remotely or in a place where we can ensure the safety of everyone effectively,” stresses Kirchner in episode 3. There are more systems, more data and more assets online due to the pandemic that make cyberattacks more profitable since an investment may yield much higher returns nowadays. Kirchner concludes by highlighting the need to safeguard European values and continue the work that is required to ensure safety and security. “[W]e’ve seen how much the values of the European Union are a beacon throughout the world in situations where it’s easy to attack science, to attack society, to attack inclusiveness, to attack diversity.” The ongoing SPARTA (Strategic programs for advanced research and technology in Europe) aims at rethinking the way cybersecurity research is performed in Europe across domains and expertise in academia and industry. For more information, please see: SPARTA project website

Keywords

SPARTA, pandemic, COVID-19, cybersecurity, cyberattack

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