As E&T’s editors join many other of the UK’s cubicle dwellers in getting used to working at home as Covid-19 makes its unwelcome presence felt, members of the team write about how the week’s developments have affected them and stories in the news that caught their eye.
Ben Heubl, associate editor
Cyber-security experts I’ve talked to over the past week have confirmed an increase in cyber-criminal activity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Pundits have also specifically confirmed increasing attempts by ‘black hat’ hackers to target healthcare organisations. Are these hackers mad?
We should remain critical of these statements. None of the experts could offer any specific figures or measures, but I do believe them when they say they registered new attacks at their healthcare clients. Some merely said they saw an increase in activity in areas such as in ransomware attacks. New investigations are difficult but will follow, one contact assured me, so soon we will know more.
One of the aspects of attacks with which cyber-security analysts struggle is attribution. It is hard to figure out who is behind the healthcare attacks. If it is confirmed that these are nascent state hackers then we need a different approach against them than in the case of individuals looking to enrich themselves.
To me, the idea of government-inspired hacking makes little sense with regards to Covid-19. Why would you harm other nations when your country is in similar peril? Chances are probably higher that some individuals see a financial benefit lurking during a time when more people work from their homes. Workers now based at home could offer a broader base for attack, with more screen-time and less access to IT-service department advice or support. It’s potentially a more fruitful period for cyber criminals.
Although this is concerning from an economic angle, hacking healthcare is particularly aggravating (to me) because of the lack of ethics, never mind sympathy for those struggling during these unprecedented times.
Why are these hackers so heartless, you ask? Some might reside in countries still only mildly affected by Covid-19, such as Brazil, one expert has pointed out. Other reasons may include general distrust of the media’s reporting of the virus. I’m not sure if I am buying this.
On the contrary, we’ve seen many more non-technical hackers out there in the past few weeks and months scamming the system. People don’t need to be cyber criminals to harm it. Isn’t buying up all the supplies in supermarkets with the intent of later selling health masks or toilet paper to those in need as unethical and morally questionable as healthcare cyber attacks right now?
Tim Fryer, technology editor
This may be an odd story to pick from the week’s news, but I think it highlights the situation we are in now.
When we come up with our ideas for E&T issue themes, we do so in the hope that they resonate with our readers not just as being entertaining and interesting, but relevant and topical as well. In that forgotten era before coronavirus descended on us, I think that the two topics which vexed the public most – in the UK at least – were crime and the environment. ‘Environment’ is a multi-faceted topic and while we concentrated on plastics last year, we will look at climate change later in 2020.
Meanwhile, crime – or the perception of it – was spiralling out of control. City centres and housing ‘projects’ were becoming out of bounds on account of knife-wielding youths with no respect for human life (other people’s lives at least). This article is one of several that appear in the latest issue of E&T, tackling the most pressing issue in British society.
And then it changed.
It appears that the most pressing issue now is, in fact, access to toilet roll. And pasta. And hand sanitiser.
Many of us will be used to working at home and will have the necessary routines and disciplines in place, but not perhaps used to other people working at home at the same time (two in my case). I am hugely thankful I don’t have to cater for incarcerated young children. Even the sound of children’s television would drive you mad, irrespective of the dire consequences of turning it off.
“Strange times are these in which we live,” said Plato, approximately 2,400 years ago, but surely not as strange as now. Within days, a situation has escalated to a point where it has changed almost everything about our normal lives. However, ‘the show must go on’, as the saying goes, and while it doesn’t seem to be true for showbusiness at the moment, it is certainly true of E&T. The team has scattered to individual homes and the publishing process continues unabated. There have been teething problems. Our fortnightly editorial meeting with a dozen or so participants, normally an efficient if not flawless process, was pretty shambolic when everyone tried phoning in remotely. Nobody knew when to speak or when not to. The next day, however, the meetings were better. Some sort of order seemed to reign. It’s a learning process.
Society is settling down into its new routine already. If only we could find some hand sanitiser.
Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
This is most excellent. As companies around the world, including the UK, make their workers self-isolate, you’re bound to get a little stir crazy.
Online therapy service Help Hub will be offering free 20-minute sessions aimed at vulnerable older people and others who are self-isolating or struggling during the coronavirus outbreak, after therapists across the UK have volunteered their help. The company has expanded its service, as it was originally going to serve west Oxfordshire only. As Covid-19 spreads – and cabin fever with it – it’s definitely a good idea to reach out to others.
Now, I’ve never hidden my issues with my noggin. If anything, I’m more open about it than a lot of people would want, but there’s no point exacerbating the stigma of keeping a stiff-upper-lip attitude about wellbeing, in my opinion. If you have a problem, reach out. That seems to now apply to everyone. Do everything you can to get the help you need to keep yourself from climbing the walls.
Check out Psyberguide, too. It rates the best mental health apps for you, so you don’t have to slog through all of them to find one that works for your brain.
I’m also trying to do this whole working from home thing and researching a feature for next month’s issue of E&T. The problem is, those who I want to contact are already chock-a-block with enquiries about Covid-19, which is annoying, but not really an issue in the grand scheme of things.
Anyway, stay safe, keep yourself away from people (which I do anyway) and go for walks. Got it? Good. Oh, and don’t shop like a hoarder. You loons.
Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Well, working from home when you’re not used to it is a steep learning curve – particularly if like me you’re an Apple Mac user in an organisation geared up to support Windows machines. It’s also brought home how little I know about all the things my younger colleagues take for granted (and almost all of them are younger).
This week, there was supposed to be a trial ‘work from home’ day to uncover any potential glitches, but as all our readers must have noticed, wherever you are in the world, we’ve been overtaken by events and Tuesday saw many of us hastily removing essential equipment from our desks so we could set it up in a suitable – or unsuitable – place at home.
In my case, I usually walk to the office, so it involved negotiating with my husband for use of the car so I could transport a desktop machine. That was after the IT department had spent a long time trying to set it up so I could access the IET’s network from outside. It even worked in the end – but only once. Cyber security matters, but trying to track down just why my password is rejected is proving to be quite a task.
Never mind, I can access email and everything I need for my daily work and if I can’t get onto the intranet to book my holidays, that’s the least of my worries – especially as I’ve just had to cancel a planned trip to Australia.
There have been numerous emails flying around about WhatsApp, Hangouts, Facetime… none of the things I’ve ever felt a need for. I’ve also had to share my mobile number with about twice as many people as had it before, having previously taken the view that home and office landlines keep those parts of my life separate. As for those emails: dozens from different people with the same subject line, but all of them have to be checked in case there’s something important that doesn’t appear in the thread of the most recent one.
Adjusting to work at home is another part of the learning curve. I’m quite happy sitting alone in a spare bedroom, but that wouldn’t suit everyone and there’s still the question of fitting in with other people’s routines – even for something as simple as what time we have lunch. I got that wrong today and wasn’t available when a sudden flurry of work came in. Another lesson.
We live in interesting times – and worrying ones especially for those of us who have very elderly relatives. It puts a few IT headaches into perspective.
Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Ah, the dark side of humanity merges with the dark side of technology. How can this possibly end badly? It is easier than ever to spy on people, to track their movements and log their activity. Even when people take reasonable steps to protect themselves from weirdos, perverts and criminals, it turns out to be shockingly easy to circumvent the basic barriers erected. It’s a very serious problem, but one that shows no immediate signs of diminishing – quite the opposite, regrettably. The cleverer, smarter, faster, smaller and more connected technology gets, the more unobtrusive and effective cyberstalking tools and apps become as well. The ray of hope is that people are organising the resistance and coordinating efforts to address the problem before it becomes too big to crush once and for all. The dark side of humanity will always be there in some people, but big tech firms can certainly do more to avoid being complicit in enabling them and their illegal behaviour.
It’s initially hard to tell if this is a genuinely humanitarian gesture by Amazon or more of a self-serving, hard-nosed business decision to maintain frictionless operation and keep that endless flow of money into Jeff Bezos’ pocket nice and steady, despite the outbreak of one of the worst global health crises in living memory. If the last three or four paragraphs in this story don’t clear things up for you, try this on for size: Amazon, the richest corporation in the world, and one which paid almost no tax last year in any country in which it operates (hurray for creative corporate accounting, keeping dubious practices on just the right side of tax law!) is apparently offering a maximum of two weeks’ paid leave for any workers that test positive for Covid-19, whilst also demanding mandatory overtime shifts from those same workers so that Amazon can cope with the “unprecedented demand” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Stop snivelling and get back to work, you lily-livered slackers! Those fancy swivel chairs in Jeff’s new Blue Origin mission control HQ won’t pay for themselves, you know!” It fair warms your heart, doesn’t it?
Siobhan Doyle, assistant technology editor
Now that there are a lot of people either working from home or self-isolating due to the coronavirus outbreak, inevitably there will be some who will be feeling lonely or bored being cooped up in their houses. However, an online therapy service has announced plans to offer free 20-minute sessions to those who are self-isolating and struggling during this manic time.
The Help Hub was originally intended to serve a small area in west Oxfordshire who are currently undergoing self-isolation. Now the company has said it plans to expand the service nationally following an influx of support.
“We know there are some very vulnerable people out there who are already isolated, struggling and hard to reach,” said Ruth Chaloner, the founder of the service. “We’ve set up a Facebook page – TheHelpHubWestOxford – where volunteers map out their area and coordinate teams to take responsibility for every street.”
Currently, Chaloner is asking for therapists to email her at email@example.com if they want to get involved in the service. If you’re a licensed therapist, it would be lovely if you could get involved in this good cause. Indeed, it is a neat idea. There is a lot of uncertainty and hysteria revolving around the coronavirus outbreak and a lot of people are scared at the prospect of self-isolating or being quarantined. We need to come together to support each other and a service like this is a good chance to help those in need.
Meanwhile, Belgian robotics firm Zorabots (best known for its ‘Pepper’ robot) has lent a fleet of video-calling robots to care homes to help elderly residents keep in contact with loved ones after its government banned visitors to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Again, what a fantastic way to support each other during this current health crisis.
Despite all the depressing news stories regarding this outbreak, from the unfortunate deaths to the unnecessary stockpiling, it’s nice to hear news such as these two that are so positive and give people hope. Sticking to government advice and working together, whether that’s simply keeping in contact with loved ones or helping send groceries to your neighbour’s house, will help us through this situation, as cheesy as that may sound.
Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
It’s good to know that our Brussels correspondent is coping with the quarantine so well with the help of technology. I’ve now been in self-isolation for nearly ten days (as a high- risk case due to a cardiac condition) and will have to stay put for at least 3 months – not a cheerful prospect.
It’s hard to imagine a similar situation happening, say, 30 years ago, when the only way of contacting the outside world would have been by phone. And by post (sorry, nearly forgot that snail mail still exists).
These days, however, not only I am able to access all files in my office computer, but I can also take part in virtual editorial meetings with my similarly isolated E&T colleagues (did it twice already!). My health condition requires regular exercise, and yesterday, I had the first virtual session with my personal trainer on… WhatsApp! It worked perfectly, the biggest challenge being calming down (I don’t want to use the word ‘isolating’) my dog Tashi for the duration of the session, for he was trying to imitate my movements, with some undesirable consequences for our lounge-room furniture.
The downside of having too much technology at home is that it does not always co-exist well with domestic routine and appliances. Example. This morning, my wife, who is also working from home now, has accidentally spilled her whole cup of morning coffee onto the keyboard of HER office laptop (not mine, thankfully!). Spilling coffee over it is probably the worst thing one can do a laptop, similar perhaps to stabbing a human being in the tummy, so she is now away at our local computer corner shop, where Ahmad, the unsurpassable PC and Internet guru, is helping her to heal the wounded machine. I am sure he will succeed.
In the meantime, I am enjoying the whole surface of our shared desk (we have to work facing each other) hoping that she will come home soon (with the cured laptop), yet not before I finish and add my latest ‘View from Vitalia’ blog to the E&T website – another little miracle that can be carried out from home!
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