The New COVID-19 Workforce: Safety, Scams, and Security


The New COVID-19 Workforce: Safety, Scams, and Security

The world as we know it has changed. Schools and universities moved from the classroom to online platforms and a majority of the workforce has transitioned from their offices to working remotely. For many of us, video is how we stay connected to our families, work, school, and health providers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a technological awakening on the realities of online safety and cybersecurity. This awakening is the start of the journey for a safer and more secure virtual environment. Over the last month, there have been numerous stories of cybercriminals sending targeted emails to access computers to attacking people on video conferencing calls.

One recent scam sent people an email (purportedly from a hospital) stating they may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus through either a family member or coworker. The email had an attached spreadsheet with the names of the people as well as instructions to print it and bring with them to a testing facility. When a person clicked on the email, you guessed it, there were no names on the spreadsheet. According to KnowBe4, once the attached file was accessed, it released malicious code and macros into the person’s computer.

Many cyberattacks can be thwarted just by raising the cyber IQ of your community. The IRS recently issued a notice on stimulus checks stating, "We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn't going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster. That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don't open them or click on attachments or links. Go to for the most up-to-date information."


Cybercrime will not take a break during the COVID-19 crisis. While the world is distracted with the realities of life, the virus, and the new school and work norms, cybercriminals are looking for ways to take advantage. During these unprecedented times, we may make choices to click on links we normally would not, to stay up to date on the COVID-19 pandemic. As you, your family, and business begin to operate in this new remote-video environment, there are some tips you need to implement to navigate this unparalleled season of life. The critical question to answer is: How does a family or an organization keep their data safe from cybercriminals?

One of the most significant vulnerabilities to any network is the human factor. The primary reason for this is most people are not provided cyber training; therefore, they easily fall prey to cyberattacks. The reality is that you, your family, and your friends and coworkers need to be aware of the looming cyber threats that may threaten your community. It is vital that all of us get up to speed on the key areas social engineers and hackers will leverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bill Britton

Bill Britton, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Information Technology Services, and Director of the Cybersecurity Center, California Polytechnic State University

Staying Safe

  • Inform people how scammers are using fear associated with COVID-19 to access information. You may contact the Federal Government if you are the victim of a scam

  • Educate your network of families, friends and colleagues on password policies and protection

  • Explain how phishing emails and videos cause harm

  • Install software updates, firewalls and use virtual private networks for added security

  • Set privacy settings on your computer and social media sites to stop unwanted visitors from accessing and listening to your computer 

  • Backup your computer frequently. A cyberattack can be very costly. There are many tools on the market that make backing up your computer very easy and affordable

  • Prepare for what to do if a cyberattack happens, and when your machine becomes compromised

We are seeing glimmers of hope in slowing the spread of COVID-19 because so many of us are following the advice and guidance of our public health officials. Practicing good cyber hygiene is another way we can protect ourselves as we navigate our new normal. You do not have to be a cyber expert to learn how to use tools to keep your business and family safe. Throughout this crisis, Cal Poly’s California Cybersecurity Institute will publish a series of articles on tools and tactics for cyber safety.


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