How To Stay Cybersafe During COVID-19

Cybercriminals prey on those who are vulnerable, and they constantly look for new ways to scam innocent people as trends emerge and our culture shifts. COVID-19 gave these online offenders fresh opportunities.

As health concerns heightened, unemployment rose and virtual work and school became the new norm, Kurt Shouse, Florence Bank’s information and cybersecurity officer, said cybercriminals adapted their means of attack. Email scams began to target people using COVID-19 related content.

Cybercriminals also began to find ways to infiltrate business networks being accessed by employees working at home, likely with reduced firewalls and security.

Kurt’s recommendation to anyone working remotely is to remain alert when using the internet. Keep your system and software updated. Use multi-factor authentication when possible and change your passwords frequently.

“Protect yourself by employing a general curiosity about being online and staying aware. If an email seems off, it probably is,” he says. “If you’re paying attention, you’re going to make it that much harder for a cybercriminal to compromise you or your computer, and they’ll move on to something or someone else.”

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month occurs every October, and Kurt is pleased that Florence Bank is able to serve as a resource for information. He says, “The scams don’t go away. We want to help educate people, so they stay safe online.”

How COVID-19 Changed the Way People Bank

Total logins for mobile and online banking increased by 22 percent during the pandemic, and active mobile users increased by 12 percent since the winter.

“COVID gave our customers a reason to learn new ways to bank,” Kurt says, adding that because of mobile and online banking many have the ability to monitor their accounts daily, rather than monthly. That puts them in a better position.”

Staff in IT, like Kurt, monitor network traffic in real time, staying alert to unusual traffic to keep customer accounts protected.

“We have various tools to monitor network traffic and online banking,” Kurt says. “If we see anomalies, we will take action. That’s how we’re keeping customers safe, and we do it very well at the bank.

One of the security tools the bank has in place to keep customer accounts secure is FraudDetect. FraudDetect is the bank’s fraud monitoring system that works 24/7 to detect suspicious activity on customer debit cards. Bethany Rose, Florence Bank’s deposit operations manager said, “When suspicious activity is detected, one of our trained specialists will contact the customer directly to confirm or deny the recent transactions and take necessary action if needed.”

Potentially fraudulent activities include sudden change in location, a rapid string of expensive purchases and any new transaction patterns associated with fraud trends around the world.

“It’s important to respond to fraud notifications so we can work to prevent potential risk and avoid any unnecessary restrictions that may be placed on your card,” Bethany says. If fraudulent activity is suspected on your debit card, trained specialists will contact you via email, text or phone to confirm or deny the transaction.

“That’s why it’s vital for the bank to have your most up to date contact information on file so we can notify you right away if there’s suspicious activity suspected,” Bethany says. “It’s also important to notify us before you travel to places outside of your normal routine. During the pandemic many travel plans have been postponed, but once things open up again it will be essential to let the bank know your plans so we can help protect your accounts.”

How You Can Protect Yourself from New Scams

As the nation’s workforce began operating out of kitchens and living rooms, scammers began taking a look at how to exploit remote work situations. As they discovered weaker systems, they’d look at the staff in a particular business and investigate them on social media. Then, they’d research each individual’s security on home networks.

“Is it password protected? Can the password be easily guessed?” These are questions Kurt says the scammer researches. “They start gaining more intelligence from there.”

Be aware that scammers will use any information found online against you. Additionally, they will try the following as a method of attack:

Email phishing that urges you to act. Emails that promise job opportunities, loan applications, healthcare assistance or other help in responding to change and heartaches brought by COVID-19 are popular now. While these emails evoke an emotional response, avoid clicking on any links or offer any personal information in response. If you do, you could unlock the front door to your computer, allowing the scammer to add malware that can disable and lock your computer. “Then they may ask for a ransom to unlock it,” Kurt says.

What you can do: Don’t respond to any random emails offering help, and don’t give your personal information to anyone online. Also, make sure you back up your files, so if you do get scammed, you won’t need to pay the ransom fee.

Be alert to unusual emails from people posing as friends and colleagues. One common email scam occurs when hackers gain access to the names of people in your communication circles. They can then send you emails with familiar sender names. In your inbox, it appears the communication is from a friend or colleague when, in fact, replies will go only to the scammer. As you read your email, tune in to messages that seem random, unexplained or posing questions to which the answer would be obvious to a real sender. Don’t hit “Reply” or even start a fresh email to the person the email is allegedly from—as the scammer could be watching that person’s inbox as well.

What you can do: Pick up the phone, call the alleged sender from your network and ask, “Did you just send me an email asking…?” Kurt says, “These are real people behind these scams, not simply robots. They may even schedule a phone call with you. They are rerouting emails and phone numbers. Be very careful of the information you are giving out.”

Password protect your online meeting. While innocent, some scammers are now doing what’s called “Zoom bombing,” which means showing up unannounced on your Zoom meeting and causing a disturbance—simply because they can. While Zoom and other online meeting software companies, such as GotoMeeting have improved their security, you can prevent hacking as well.

What you can do: Require that all attendees to meetings you oversee use a password to gain access. And set your meeting up so that your attendees must be admitted by the organizer, this way no one can gain access unannounced.

Additional Tips to Keep Yourself Safe Online 

Make sure you update your operating system and software. The biggest threat to your personal or business computer security is failing to back up your system or software. Always keep up with the updates. If you ignore them, you’re putting yourself at risk,” Kurt says, explaining that updates are called “patching” in the security world. “Frequently, there are vulnerabilities that affect your computer’s system. Microsoft, Apple, all software manufactures, send out patches to fix these vulnerabilities in both security and performance. It’s a continual cycle.”

Use multi-factor authentication. To sign into most websites, you need to enter your username and a password. With multi-factor authentication, you can add an extra layer of security by also requiring face ID or a code you’d receive via a text or email. Every website—from your bank’s online portal to Amazon to Gmail—has a different mechanism for setting up multi-factor authentication. On each site, look at your settings and explore how it’s done.

Change your passwords on a regular basis. “It’s difficult for people to remember to frequently change their passwords. But passwords can become compromised without your knowledge, giving full access to your files and online information,” Kurt says. Change your passwords to make it more difficult for hackers to capture your information.

Don’t store your passwords in your computer. In particular, don’t store passwords in a file called “Passwords,” Kurt cautions. If using an online software program to store your passwords, Kurt says to study its ratings and reviews before using.

As COVID-19 drives us apart, we must work, study and socialize more online making it imperative to protect ourselves from cybercrime. By staying educated, informed—and curious, we can take the precautionary steps needed to remain cybersafe.

To read general tips on internet security, visit