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Social Media versus Coronavirus Misinformation

The coronavirus has caused a great deal of fear worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared it a public health emergency. Most of the over-80,000 cases of Corona worldwide to date have been in China.  However, the virus is spreading and has surfaced in countries around the world.

Many people know about the virus but do not have complete information about its symptoms, causes and means of prevention. One central reason is the misinformation spread by fake posts on social media. Social media companies are starting to respond.  Facebook, for example, has deleted fake posts about the virus.

The Coronavirus challenge for Facebook

Facebook is checking virus-related content posted on its platform.  User reports of “fake news” posts about Corona are an important part of its battle against hoaxes and misinformation.

Coronavirus has also challenged sites like YouTube.  YouTube said it would delete content about the virus that contains conspiracy theories or false claims that have been flagged by local health authorities and global health organizations.

Why Coronavirus fake news is especially harmful

Social media sites have been battling fake news in general for some time, but fake news about the virus can lead to physical harm and even death.  This makes it even more serious.  Therefore, Facebook announced that fake posts related to the virus would violate its ban on misinformation leading to physical harm.

Facebook is not alone in taking steps to prevent health-related misinformation.  TikTok, Twiter, Pinterest have all instituted measures to combat this phenomenon. Twitter reported that it found over 15 million tweets about the coronavirus within a month. However, it did not see any coordinated attempts to spread fake content.

 

Public and Private Sectors Tackling Cyber Threats

 

The interests of the public and private sectors do not always align.  However, a recent case shows how the cooperation of the two sectors can lead to protecting the public from cyber threats. The U.S. National Security Agency alerted Microsoft about a major security flaw in its Windows 10 operating system.

Hackers could have easily exploited the flaw

The flaw was severe and the NSA said hackers could easily find a way to exploit it.  Microsoft patched the flaw the same week it was reported.

The flaw allowed hackers to easily design fake security certificates that would give them a free pass to run malicious software on Windows devices. Because of the fake security certificates, everything would look legitimate to a Windows’ system.  Users would be unaware of any malicious files because digital signatures would appear to have come from a trusted provider.

Working together and tackling cyber threats may be a positive sign for public-private cooperation

The cooperation between Microsoft and the NSA is a good example of how two different industries can work together. The cooperation very likely prevented a significant cyber attack.  Michael Kaiser, former executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, said that the level of trust and sharing between government and business a decade ago was not high. This recent cooperation between the NSA and Microsoft may indicate that things are changing for the better.

 

 

Combating Social Media Ad Abuse through Greater User Control

Political ads and misinformation have been a major thorn in the side of social media companies in recent years.  Critics of Facebook want it to prohibit politicians from placing ads to spread fake news and misinformation. However, Facebook would not limit any political ad targeting. It did, though, announce that it will allow users to turn off certain ad-targeting tools.

Preparing for upcoming elections

Facebook said that it will let people see fewer political ads and will increase the transparency on its platform.

After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, critics have taken Facebook to task.  They have claimed that the company failed to secure its platform from misinformation and fake posts. Indeed, the tech company did fail to identify and combat the Russian interference in the 2016 election. Also, it enabled misuse of its users’ data by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Even today, the ads of politicians are exempt from fact-checking standards which are applied to other users’ content.

By continuing to allow political ads, Facebook has taken a different approach from other companies in the field. For example, Google has limited paid posts by politicians and Twitter has full banned political advertising.

Facebook’s defense: Not interfering with free speech

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended Facebook’s policy on political ads. The company has insisted that it would not check political ads, arguing that it would not interfere with free speech in politics.

Protecting Against the Snatch Ransomware Threat

A dangerous malware virus called Snatch is making the rounds.  Surprisingly, Snatch reportedly takes advantage of Safe Mode in Microsoft Windows in order to prevent the targeted computers from using antivirus software.  Windows Safe Mode is a safety feature which helps users troubleshoot problems by rebooting their PC in a safer environment.  Safe Mode allows only the most basic software, drivers or services that come with Windows. It disables all additional programs. However, this process also prevents victims’ computer antivirus software from loading.  

What is Snatch?

Snatch, discovered by Michael Gillespie, is a high-risk piece of ransomware. It encrypts data on PCs and extorts users to pay ransom in order to unlock their data. The computer infection creates a ransom message within a text file dubbed “Readme_Restore_Files”. Moreover, it renames encrypted files by adding its extension name, “.snatch.”

The British computer security company Sophos found that Snatch can function even in Safe Mode.  Then, it encrypts the victim’s hard drive to force the user to pay the ransom to re-access the drive.

Keeping your Data from Getting Snatched

Sophos offered tips to protect computers against the Snatch ransomware:

First, organizations should not expose the Remote Desktop interface to the unprotected internet. All internet-facing remote access programs or tools could be huge risks if users leave them unwatched and unattended.

Second, organizations should use multi-factor authenticators for administrators to make it more difficult for attackers to breach their accounts.

Third, companies should do a thorough inventory check of all devices and search their network for threats.