Adopting Change, Adapting to Change

April 19 2020

Wael Saghir

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic we have had to adapt to new ways of living and have been forced to adopt new means of productivity. These means are mainly centered around utilizing technology that has not yet been properly incorporated into work. Corporations and businesses across the world have been forced to adopt different technological solutions developed by tech companies and startups. Tech solutions are now used by average consumers and large corporations for communication, productivity and to perform banking and financial transactions. With the critical role that tech companies are playing today, what are the difficulties that users are encountering while using this technology, and what are the risks that regulators are looking out for?

With social distancing measures and lockdowns imposed on a third of the world’s population, companies and individuals are relying on digital social networking. Video chat apps have witnessed an increased hike in users. For example, according to a TechCrunch report, business conferencing apps reached 62 million downloads in just one week with Zoom topping the charts internationally. As the company behind Zoom reported, daily users by March 2020 rose to 200 million users from 10 million users. For Zoom, this meant the company’s shares increased by nearly 100% in 2020 alone. For consumers, businesses and education providers, however, this has meant increased security breaches and cyber threats. According to the latest reports, up to 500,000 Zoom accounts have been hacked so far. Hackers who have acquired users’ credentials are now selling them over the Dark Web. Such illegal acquisition of users’ credentials was made possible through what is referred to as ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities in the application’s software which are sold on the Dark Web anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 US dollars. Another inconvenience that found its way to video chatting in the dawn of COVID-19 is what is referred to as Zoom-bombing, where uninvited third parties would enter a Zoom call, at times sharing obscene videos through the ‘share-screen’ feature offered by Zoom.

Another way in which technology is playing a vital role in our everyday lives, is through online banking solutions. Like video conferencing solutions, online banking was already being used by a percentage of the global population. However, a surge in accessing online banking solutions has resulted in the inaccessibility of online banking, as well as the risk of cyber attack and hacking. Digital blackmail is also on the rise, with police in Staffordshire for example warning residents against falling victim to digital blackmail in the form of ‘sextortion’. Sextortion is a form of digital blackmail of which the blackmailer threatens their victim with exposing sexually explicit pictures of their target online and particularly on the victim’s social media accounts. Not only has the issue been prevalent in Staffordshire, it’s also been on the rise in different parts of the world where the Australian government issued a warning as a result of up to 1,900 reported attempts in a span of one week.

Despite these major concerns, technology companies are playing a positive role in bridging the gap created by lockdowns and social distancing measures. Video chatting and conferencing applications have allowed people to stay in touch and to see one other, improving mental health and productivity. Banks have come up with different ways to look after the ‘high-risk/vulnerable’ people in communities. A ‘challenger bank’ called Sterling, for example, has recently launched a new service allowing its customers to issue an additional debit card permitting another individual to spend a specified amount from it on behalf of the account owner. In this way, the bank has been able to support those shopping for essentials on behalf of others.

As we wait patiently for the lockdown measures to be eased, many are anticipating life to return to a status quo. I believe, however, that our reliance on technology will only increase post-COVID-19 and that these recent changes will set up the new rules of how business is conducted. As researchers, we must therefore begin thinking about how we should best respond to emerging privacy and security concerns, as well as think actively about how these changes may improve or exacerbate existing inequalities in society, with issues such as access to, and affordability of, such technology being at the forefront.