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Global Health Emergencies and the Single Source of Truth

By now, we shouldn’t be strangers to cybercriminals taking advantage of large significant events, to prey on folks.

Examples like the World Cup or missing MH370 flight, are two examples of events that viral very quickly and along with it, malicious malware in the form of compromised attachments.

Currently, another event worthy of going viral is the global health emergency caused by the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.

Agencies like the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) have created dedicated URLs or single sources of truth for the public to obtain accurate and reliable information about the situation. This can help stem the spread of misinformation and also reduce the likelihood of individuals clicking into compromised URLs..

But it may not be enough.

Cybersecurity vendors like IBM and Kaspersky have already identified a new botnet-driven campaign, where infected emails are sent out.

These emails would claim to contain notices about prevention measures and details about the outbreak. Instead, what they really contain is malicious software like the Emotet Trojan.

Kaspersky has identified ten different documents that use the coronavirus theme, to infect devices.

The situation so far

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency, officially called a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ (PHEIC), on 30th January this year.

This was just as the as the coronavirus outbreak spread well beyond China, which is believed to be the originating source of the virus.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general had said, “The W.H.O. continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.” The declaration comes now, he said, because of fears that the coronavirus may reach countries with weak health care systems, where it could run amok, potentially infecting millions of people and killing thousands.

A state of emergency, and yet…

A PHEIC is meant to mobilise international response to an outbreak. It’s an opportunity for the WHO, with guidance from its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, to implement significant measures regarding travel, trade, quarantine, screening and treatment.

WHO’s declaration does not have the force of law, and it’s role is to only offer advice for governments to consider when making their respective decisions.

Their recommendations are not enforceable, but there can be considerable pressure for countries to abide by them.

Currently, the organisation recognises the need to stop the spread of rumours and misinformation. Control measures only work if people abide by them, and public trust is a huge factor in effective control.

Steps like the one taken by our local MOH, are significant to ensure single sources of truth that securely disseminate useful advice, encourage knowledge sharing, as well as prevent panic and paranoia.

The WHO is governed by an annual convocation of health ministers from all United Nations countries.