The latest news and insight on how the technology sector is reacting to Covid-19
Social media used to predict future UK spikes in coronavirus cases
The next UK areas to experience a spike in cases will be Manchester, Liverpool, Oxfordshire, Leeds, Northamptonshire and Luton. This is according to Dataminr, a real-time information discovery company, which says it previously identified outbreaks of coronavirus cases in London, Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent, seven to thirteen days prior to spikes in case numbers. It analyses public social media posts, rather than posts that simply mention Covid-19. This includes posts from people specifically indicating they tested positive for Covid-19, people posting that they are experiencing symptoms, people indicating they have been exposed but not tested, first-hand accounts of confirmed cases from relatives, friends, and colleagues, as well as Covid-19 related supply shortages and closures. Dataminr is working with hospitals, health systems, and emergency services, as well as the London Mayor’s Office, to help them anticipate future spikes in case numbers. It is also working with the UN and the World Health Organization.
Apple and Google to launch joint Covid-19 tracing tool
Apple and Google are teaming up to develop a decentralised contact tracing tool to help individuals determine if they have been exposed to Covid-19. It will initially launch in the US. Contact tracing allows public health authorities to monitor the spread of the disease and inform the potentially exposed to enable them to get tested. This is done by identifying and notifying people that have come into contact with a Covid-19 positive person. The initial phase of the project is an API that public health agencies can introduce into their own apps. The next phase is a system-level contact tracing system that works across iOS and Android services on an opt-in basis. Over the weekend the UK government announced that it is working with major tech companies to launch its own contact tracing app.
EU to adopt unified policy on coronavirus apps
The European Union is drawing up common rules for using mobile apps to track the spread of Covid-19, aiming to make better use of the technology and address privacy concerns. The coordinated strategy comes after several EU countries have rolled out a variety of apps, triggering criticism from some data privacy activists who worry mass data collection could become permanent if not tightly controlled. "I fully support a European approach for the use of mobile applications and mobile data in response to the coronavirus pandemic in line with our fundamental rights. We will ensure this approach is transparent, proportional and based on people's trust," said European Commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourova.
The Commission said a fragmented and uncoordinated approach hampered the effectiveness of measures to tackle the pandemic and also caused serious harm to the region's single market and to fundamental rights and freedoms.
US, UK warn of widespread VPN vulnerability
Cyber criminals have ramped up their scanning for unpatched VPNs and other remote working tools, with publicly known vulnerabilities in Citrix/Netscaler, Fortinet, Pulse Secure and Palo Alto products, according to the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The joint advisory highlights a sustained pivot to Covid-19-based phishing attacks against organisations and individuals, with malware delivered in the guise of government or medical help, among other techniques. It also notes an increase in internet connected Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) endpoints. This means that there are now more than 4.7 million publicly exposed remote desktop protocols susceptible to hackers.
However, despite the huge surge in Covid-themed attacks, contrary to numerous vendor reports, the overall levels of cybercrime have not increased the NCSC and CISA said, but that’s not to say the shift to pandemic themes is not proving effective. The NCSC notes that, “The techniques used by attackers prey on people’s appetite for information and curiosity towards the outbreak, with phishing emails and SMS messages using the virus as a lure to trick people into revealing credentials or downloading malicious software.”
Smartphone sales to fall 23% this year
Global smartphone sales are set to drop 23% in 2020 ahead of a modest recovery the following year, according to a report from Strategy Analytics. A Covid-19 global recession will create significant disruption to the automotive, consumer electronics, semiconductor and IT infrastructure businesses worldwide before an uptick in 2021 the report predicted. The impact on 5G will be considerable with services delayed in Europe and consumer appetite for expensive new 5G devices much less healthy in North America and China.