With vaccinations underway, it’s becoming possible to envision the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel; however, the post-COVID world will have some notable differences. One such example is the likely requirement of “immunity passports” to do any number of things: have elective surgery, attend college, or travel internationally.
The European Union, China, Israel and Japan are among the nations that have launched or plan to unveil such programs. In the U.S., states will be in charge of developing their programs with federal support as required. Given the partisan differences surrounding the pandemic response and economic recovery, this is likely to introduce numerous challenges in and of itself. But political concerns aside, the emergence of more coronavirus tracing apps and programs also brings some serious security challenges.
As PBS’ Laura Santhanam recently put it, “Unlike the physical [vaccination card used to track Yellow Fever], there are growing concerns about data privacy as documents verifying COVID-19 vaccination would exist and generally be accessed digitally.” In fact, these concerns are so pressing that a new Forrester report includes the vulnerability of COVID-19 apps as one of the five major problems which could impede post-pandemic progress in 2021.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the chief vulnerabilities and what governments and businesses alike should be cognizant of as these apps become more mainstream.
Improper Access Controls. Hospital administrators. Physicians. Insurance adjusters. Claims specialists. Pharmacy techs. The list of potential roles that could access vaccination data is massive, and that’s just within the healthcare setting. When you expand to other industries, the list is virtually endless. In order to protect sensitive data, it’s important that all COVID-19 apps and programs are designed with strong role and event-based access controls.
For example, a doctor may require “Write” access in order to edit or add information pertinent to a patient’s immunity or reaction to the vaccine. However, this permission should be the exception rather than the norm as hackers could wreak havoc should they be able to manipulate data within these apps and programs.
Healthcare employees are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, in many cases working extended hours under extremely taxing circumstances in an effort to treat the growing number of infected patients. In this environment, it’s critical that everyone is cognizant of an unfortunate reality of our times: hackers are always looking for ways to capitalize on a crisis.
As such, it’s important that hospitals and healthcare institutions help employees safeguard their data and ensure they are cognizant of the increased security threats associated with the pandemic. Following are a few tips to consider:
A rise in phishing scams. As mentioned above, many hackers are employing phishing scams to pose as companies offering a legitimate coronavirus-related service in an attempt to trick recipients into sharing credit card information or other personal data. The good news is that there are some common characteristics associated with phishing attacks that people can use to vet these communications. For example, encourage employees to check for grammar, punctuation and formatting errors as these are often phishing red flags. It’s also important to review links before actually clicking on them and look for things that appear odd such as dashes, extra characters, or additional letters and numbers. Another good practice is to check the email address itself to see if it contains multiple numbers or letters. Finally, encourage employees to always reach out to the company in question to determine the authenticity of an offer before clicking on any links if they harbor doubts.
Increased online shopping: With more shopping taking place online, particularly for healthcare employees working long hours, the importance of strong, unique passwords is more critical than ever. It’s extremely common for people to create simple passwords that they share across multiple accounts. However, if those credentials have been leaked in a previous breach, hackers can easily use them to access these accounts and all the data they contain. Healthcare institutions must stress the significant vulnerability of this poor password practice, and encourage employees to review existing passwords and ensure any new accounts they create are protected by strong, unique credentials. Password manager solutions can be extremely helpful, particularly for people who are setting up numerous new online accounts in response to “Stay Home” orders.
An uptick in connectivity: With people working from home or participating in remote learning programs, many families are experiencing an increase in internet connectivity. This undoubtedly puts a strain on bandwidth, but it also introduces some security vulnerabilities. For example, what if a child accidentally downloads malware on the home network? And are connected devices like voice assistants or smart TVs protected by unique passwords, or do they still have the default factory settings? It’s important that employees are aware of the threats that can arise with greater connectivity and ensure they take steps to address them. It’s also essential that hospitals insist employees use their VPN whenever accessing work-related systems or data from home to keep this information protected.
In addition to the considerations outlined above, it’s also important that healthcare employees keep an eye on the evolving cybersecurity landscape as it relates to the pandemic. It’s likely that hackers will continue to find new ways to exploit the situation for their own nefarious purposes. As employees work diligently to combat coronavirus, it’s essential that hospitals remind them to keep their personal information safe.