COVID-19 spurs need for a boost in cyber hygiene

By Lokesh Ramamoorthi

COVID-19 spurs need for a boost in cyber hygiene

By Lokesh Ramamoorthi
A University of Miami cybersecurity lecturer provides a few tips to ensure a positive and safe computing experience.

This week, classes at the University of Miami began remotely after an extended spring break. In addition to the massive changes that COVID-19 has created, everyone must now adjust to learning and teaching online. In this moment, when everyone’s dependence on our digital infrastructure is higher than usual, we must approach digital tasks with an added level of cyber hygiene. These are practices that can help us have a safer digital experience. 

While self-quarantining can reduce the spread of biological pathogens, strong cyber hygiene and awareness of certain pitfalls will help stop malicious people and malware from adversely affecting our digital life, while also protecting our personal information. 

Everyone is connected to the internet during this quarantine period—whether it is because they are working from home, bored and need some entertainment, connecting with others, or getting news. Because of this, the internet is experiencing a high volume of simultaneous users for a limited bandwidth capacity. Bandwidth measures how much data can be sent over a specific connection in a certain amount of time, also commonly referred to as internet speed.  

To ensure a quality experience during online lecture sessions, students and faculty should: 

  • Download the required online collaboration software—such as Zoom—on your desktop computer and/or mobile devices, and get familiarized with the controls. 
  • If you have a slow internet connection during a lecture, disable video.
  • During class lecture hours, do not consume internet bandwidth by simultaneously running HD streaming video apps (such as Netflix, YouTube, or others), video chat, HD gaming, etc. 
  • Check your mobile phone for the apps that use background activities and background refreshing and disable them. Even if you are using your desktop or laptop computer, your mobile phones are also on your Wi-Fi network and background activities consume your internet bandwidth.
  • Set up your learning or teaching station (laptop, notepads, etc.) in a location where the Wi-Fi signal is strong, and background noise is at a minimum.
  • If you are still having a difficult time hearing the presenter during a session, request and use a dial-in option to connect to the lecture via phone. 
  • For assistance with these tools, contact the University of Miami's Information Technology (UMIT) Service Desk at (305) 284-6565 or help@miami.edu.
  • To increase your bandwidth, contact your internet service provider (Comcast, AT&T, ).
  • For home Wi-Fi FAQs and tips, click here.

To ensure your digital identity is safe while using online tools be sure to take heed of the following. 

Videoconferencing

  • In the settings tab (of Zoom), enable the "authenticate users" feature to ensure that illegitimate users cannot join the call/meeting.
  • Do not accept files through videoconferencing applications from unknown participants. Only some of the conferencing applications scan malicious files before transfer.
  • Do not share unknown files via the videoconferencing system, unless it is essentially required during the time of conference. This reduces the risk of hidden malware infecting your device and other participants. For enhanced protection, you can also disable file sharing among participants.
  • If any user requests control of your remote desktop during a session, for a legitimate purpose, please ensure you disconnect the access after the required activity is completed.
  • The videoconferencing tools that are recommended by the University are connected via UM Single Sign-On. You do not need a separate credential to use these services. Beware of emails that notify you to change passwords/credentials or that prompt you to click website links that are not legitimate. If you wish to change passwords, go through the CaneID system (miami.edu).

Phishing Scams

  • There is an uptick in attempts to exploit the current COVID-19 pandemic situation. Please beware of emails that drive urgency and appeal to emotions. If you receive these kinds of correspondence on your University email, please mark them as “phishing,” so that UMIT can block such emails promptly before they reach the entire organization.
  • Do not encourage unsolicited calls or emails that claim to enhance your internet speed. If you have questions, call your service provider and get clarifications. Seek information from legitimate websites only.
  • If you have children at home using mobile computing devices, frequently review their online activity to ensure that they are not victimized through social applications like Tik Tok, Kik, Yubo or others. 
  • To learn more about phishing and other scams, visit: miami.edu/phishing. 

Virtual Private Network

  • VPN is no longer required for off-campus access to University enterprise systems, including but not limited to: Workday; CaneLink; Microsoft Office 365/Email/Teams; Epic/UChart; Blackboard; Adobe Creative Cloud; cloud storage like Box, OneDrive, and Google Drive; and Zoom.
  • Keep in mind: The University of Miami's VPN should only be used by system administrators or for remote access to University on-premise systems/servers.
  • If you are using VPN, please ensure that you are not using high-bandwidth tools, including video-streaming services like YouTube or Zoom, while connected.
  • If you are having trouble using the VPN, please use the following alternative link to connect:med.miami.edu (instead of remote.miami.edu). For instructions, click here.
  • If you are uncertain about whether or not you should use VPN, or if you have any questions, please contact the UMIT Service Desk at: 305-284-6565 or help@miami.edu.

Other security tips from the University’s Information Security Office team can be found at security.it.miami.edu/beforeyouconnect.

Lokesh Ramamoorthi These are challenging times, and we are still getting used to new teaching and learning methods. Self-awareness about how we use digital resources and how we deal with sensitive information will truly keep us safe in this technological world. 

Lokesh Ramamoorthi serves as a lecturer in the University of Miami’s Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering as well as the Department of Computer Science. He is an avid cybersecurity educator, with more than 15 years of experience in information technology focused on cybersecurity and software engineering.