The Digital Pandemic
False news and computer attacks that promote collective hysteria swarm around the world these days, regarding the new coronavirus
By Yurisander Guevara
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
The impact of a pandemic is felt in all walks of life. The technological world, of course, does not escape it. That COVID-19 has spread to all regions of the world is already wreaking havoc on industry, as evidenced by the dozens of canceled events and extreme measures that have made headlines in recent days.
False news and email hoaxes are also rampant, seeking out victims in people who are uninformed or eager to learn more about the virus, so they are capable of clicking anything.
In this issue we summarize some of the false news found in the networks, related to myths that have been denied by the health authorities.
It’s not true that…
*It’s false that the virus is in the air It is transmitted through droplets of saliva or mucus, mainly when coughing or sneezing, hence the importance of masks or naso-buckets for those who identify themselves as sick, mainly.
*It is highly recommended to wash your hands well. Recent information states that it is more decontaminating to use soap and water than hydroalcoholic gel. False news indicated that water alone would keep the virus away.
*The virus is not mutating: the World Health Organization assures us that the virus maintains a stable structure. Variations in symptoms among affected people are associated with previous pathologies and the interaction of the coronavirus with these.
*Dogs and cats do not transmit the virus, nor do mosquitoes. Basic hygiene care must be followed with animals, but the coronavirus has not been shown to affect pets more than people. There is a whole family of known and harmless viruses, very common in cats and dogs for many years, which are called coronaviruses because of their crown shape, but they are not COVID-19. As for mosquitoes – agents that transmit diseases such as dengue, zika or chikungunya – it has not been proven that they transmit this virus either.
*The coronavirus cannot be cured and we are no longer protected by the pneumonia vaccine, Ebola treatments or antiretrovirals for HIV. This is a different virus for which a concrete solution is being sought, according to the WHO. On the way, it is normal that experimental treatments are made, but it is not advisable to self-medicate. The treatment of the coronavirus is currently symptomatic and is in the hands of epidemiologists.
*There is not a pattern of behavior before different ages. It is false that the elderly are the first to be infected or that children are immune. The deaths of older people and those who are immunosuppressed with other opportunistic diseases are not a definitive indicator of the seriousness of the coronavirus.
*Smoke from fireworks and firecrackers does not kill the pathogen. Incredible as it may seem, it has been circulated on the web that smoke generated by gunpowder kills the coronavirus. The WHO radically denied this possibility and warned that fireworks can cause burns and irritation to the eyes, throat and lungs.
*Many of the recommendations about what to eat, how to avoid spicy food or take too much vitamin C are false. The only thing the WHO recommends is not to eat raw or undercooked animal products.
*Sesame oil does not kill the virus, although bleach or chlorine-based disinfectants do. It should be understood, however, that these substances hardly affect the virus if applied to the skin or under the nose, WHO stressed, as a warning to those who might think of extreme prevention.
*The virus is not related to room temperature. It has been claimed that the coronavirus is vulnerable to heat, but that does not mean that high temperatures will exterminate it. Cases have been reported in all types of weather, hot or cold, dry or wet.
*The virus has nothing to do with its country of origin. Many memes have been shared discriminating against the Chinese, as if they were to blame for the existence of the virus. That an evil has been generated in this country that is now a pandemic does not give the right to discriminate against them. Solidarity must be a principle.
On the other hand, it is important to be alert to the contents received in the email. According to Wired, phishing scammers -a procedure to infest a computer and then access its data and use it for the benefit of the hacker- have taken advantage of fears about the spread of COVID-19 to create e-mails with that in the subject.
This week the Chinese firm QiAnXin detected Russian hackers, possibly affiliated with the groups Sandworm and Fancy Bear, who sent emails with malicious document attachments to Ukrainian targets. The emails claimed to come from the Ukrainian Health Ministry’s Public Health Center and arrived in the midst of a disinformation campaign that stoked fears about the spread of the virus in the European country and caused riots.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese security firm VinCSS detected a large volume of new phishing emails related to the coronavirus in the last two weeks, attributed to hackers. The emails include a malicious attachment purporting to contain information about COVID-19, allegedly sent by the Vietnamese Prime Minister. Of course, it’s a fake.
Another campaign attributed to Chinese actors by Check Point investigators targeted victims in Mongolia. South Korea suffered phishing attacks in February, with emails addressed to government officials, in which documents contaminated with malware were sent.
As always, it is best to be on the lookout for scams in times of uncertainty. It is not only the emails that need to be protected. Strings of messages are very common on social networks, but we recommend paying special attention to attachments that may arrive via WhatsApp, Telegram or another network.
Google and Twitter announced that searches related to the word coronavirus will try to match them with reliable content, and something similar will be done by Facebook and Instagram.
The truth is that institutionality is now relevant, and it is the official information that is the most reliable. In times of pandemic, sites such as www.sld.cu contain a huge amount of information to not only keep up to date, but to know how to act in the face of this challenge.