Before COVID-19, there were discussions about other types of viruses – particularly digital viruses. While not deadly to people, the threat of any type of digital virus is disruptive, costly and difficult to contain. The displacement of people and the increased reliance on the Internet has only increased this type of risk. As the country moves forward, the demand for telehealth, telework, broadband expansion, and medical tracking increases future risk. Because of this, digital viruses have become a great concern.

Last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) dealt with more complaints and greater dollar losses than any time over the past 20 years. In fact, IC3 handled an average of 1,300 attacks every day. Losses last year exceeded more than $3.5 billion. As technology evolves and cyber sleuths get smarter, these viruses and new ones must be watched carefully.

Hardly a day passes when citizens throughout the country are not bombarded with dangerous cyber threats. The digital distractions that reach our personal computers and phones every day have the potential to be extremely costly. One hasty click on something that looks interesting can create havoc. Cyber threats reaching us through computer screens, phones, software downloads, website links, online ads, social media, email attachments, and unpatched software require diligent discernment.

This threat is not new. The first identified computer disruption, called the Creeper System or Creeper Worm, occurred in 1971. Creeper caused infected systems to display the message “I’M THE CREEPER: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.” Other viruses have been called The Reaper, Slammer, Storm Worm, MyDoom, ILOVEYOU, CryptoLocker, and more.

The first ransomware virus was created in 1989, but malicious attacks that occur now are more sophisticated and dangerous. Some of the internet scams that reach us daily look totally legitimate.

Individuals, companies, and governmental entities of all sizes are vulnerable. Large public networks of any kind are the perfect target for cyber sleuths, and it only takes one innocent wrong click to infect an entire network for any organization.

As everything becomes more digital, lawmakers are scrambling to fund new protections to keep up with the fast-moving digital age. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 35 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have introduced more than 365 bills or resolutions this year that deal with cybersecurity.

A few bills suggested the formation of a cybersecurity task force to oversee a mandate for government entities to obtain cybersecurity insurance and training. Although cyber insurance does not protect businesses against cybercrime, it offers options for maintaining financial stability if a serious security event occurs.

Other bills have called for school districts to conduct cybersecurity assessments, and one bill called for the establishment of a State Cybersecurity and Information Technology Fund which would be funded through penalties for computer crimes.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the ultimate responsibility for overseeing cybersecurity. After a number of ransomware attacks on school districts, hospitals, and local governments, the CISA released guidance for handling malware.

Election security is of great concern. Every state must find ways to ensure safe and secure systems. Telehealth and tracking medical information digitally also is an escalating concern. Cyber insurance will be in higher demand.

This growing need to ‘go virtual’ has boosted demand for chief information officers at every jurisdictional level of government. Unfilled cybersecurity job postings are expected to reach 1.8 million by 2022. That would be a 20 percent increase over the past five years, according to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education.

As government leaders deal with COVID-19, their budgets are stretched to the limit. The battle with the physical and deadly virus is not over, and the grim reality is that cybersecurity also must be addressed more aggressively.

Congress has been urged to provide more funding to state and local governments, but whether or not that will happen is still unknown. In the meantime, in both the public and private sectors, individuals are urged on a daily basis to be very careful about what they do when active on the internet. There is an ever-present danger there, and facemasks and shelter-in-place orders offer no protection.


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Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.