On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan China. The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. Formerly, this disease was referred to as “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV”.
There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused be a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. The name of this disease was selected following the World Health Organization (WHO) best practiceexternal icon for naming of new human infectious diseases.
This virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person. It’s important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so. The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”). Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.
COVID-19 is a new disease and there is limited information regarding risk factors for severe disease. Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Based upon available information to date, those at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include:
- People aged 65 years and older
- People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Other high-risk conditions could include:
- People who are pregnant should be monitored since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illness, however, to date data on COVID-19 has not shown increased risk
- Shortness of breath
If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include*:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Be Safe on Duty
Stay Safe when Online
Working from home – a new reality
It’s evident that working from home has become a new reality for many, as more and more companies are encouraging and even requesting that their staff work remotely. In fact, recent events have accelerated this WFH trend, or workforce transformation process, with companies restricting employee travel and many allocating more resources to enable virtual work. Major tech players, like Twitter and LinkedIn, have made even bigger moves by implementing policies that require all employees to work from home. Clearly, work from home is no longer just an initiative to harness global talent but also a way to protect workers from risk.
Increased security risks
At McAfee, we’re keeping a close eye on this trend, observing huge increases in the number of personal devices connecting online. And while working from home offers benefits to employees, this upswing in personal devices connecting to enterprises can actually expose organizations and employees to security risks, such as malware attacks, identity theft, and ransomware. With the world now facing this new reality, the question remains–how can employers and employees equip themselves with the resources to work from home securely on a full-time or part-time basis?
Work from home securely
Employers must not only educate their employees on digital security best practices but also give them the tools to combat online threats that may stem from remote work. With many of us relying on emails and the web to work remotely, we need to be aware of the key giveaway signs that indicate a threat. From there, we can spot, flag, and report anything that looks suspicious. By sharing the responsibility and encouraging others to flag anything sketchy, we can all naturally raise awareness and help others avoid falling into similar traps. By staying open with one another, we can stay ahead of hackers.
Tips to protect both personal and corporate data
Want to ensure you work from home in a safe and secure way? Here are a five quick tips and tools you can use to protect both personal and corporate data:
Utilize a VPN
Many people use public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, airports, etc. in order to stay connected both professionally and personally. However, by using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection, you may be creating an easy gateway for hackers to access your personal information and data. Be sure to use a virtual private network (VPN), which is extremely important for establishing a secured connection to work files and personal photos saved in the cloud.
Be aware of phishing emails
We’ve seen hackers attempt to take advantage of people’s fears by pretending to sell face masks online to trick unsuspecting people into giving away their credit card details. Do not open any email attachments or click on any links that seem suspicious.
Regularly change cloud passwords with two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication is a more secure way to access work applications. In addition to a password/username combo, you will be asked to verify who you are with a device that you–and only you—own, such as a mobile phone. Put simply: it uses two factors to confirm an identity. Ultimately, getting access to something supposedly confidential isn’t that hard for hackers nowadays. However, a second form of identification makes it so hackers are limited in what they can pull off.
Use strong, unique passwords
In the chance a hacker does gain access to one of your accounts, make sure to use complex passwords for each of your accounts, and never reuse your credentials across different platforms. It’s also a good idea to update your passwords consistently to further protect your data. You can also use a password manager, or a security solution that includes a password manager, to keep track of all your unique passwords.
Browse with security protection
Ensure that you continue to update your security solutions across all devices. This will help protect devices against malware, phishing attacks, and other threats, as well as help identify malicious websites while browsing.
The demand for remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will invariably place pressures on organizations to ensure the availability of corporate resources in geographic locations outside of corporate control. Such demands go beyond the provision of additional capacity, with potentially remote working policies and security awareness assets in urgent need of updating and communication.
These demands are being required against the reported backdrop of cybercriminals and potential nation states continuing and even leveraging the global crisis for their own personal gain. Without respite, many cybercriminal groups appear to be continuing attacks against many sectors including healthcare. Furthermore, there are even those threat actors actively using concern related to COVID-19 as a lure to invoke user behaviour. This post is not intended to be exhaustive and will be updated as we make more resources available to enable organizations and users to stay safe and connected.
We have identified and reviewed multiple reports related to the criminal use of COVID-19 as potential bait, whether that be phishing emails, domains, malware, etc. While its use is not unexpected, with criminals always trying to leverage large events to their advantage, it is disappointing to see at a time when the world needs to come together that there are those who have scant regard for the sense of community. Our subsequent focus at this time is to attempt to determine whether any geographies specifically being targeted. The chart below maps our visibility of the targets for all known (at the time of writing) threats leveraging COVID-19.
Figure 1. Targeted COVID-19 related threats by country
As we see, the geographic dispersion of “targets” is relatively wide and includes many countries we typically see on the list of broader phishing targets. However, there are some anomalies, in particular Panama, Taiwan, and Japan. This requires us to undertake further analysis but does suggest that certain campaigns may be targeting specific countries.
It is equally important to add that this landscape is changing daily, with more threats being identified and included as part of our detection across the entire product portfolio (where appropriate). Moreover, the McAfee Advanced Threat Research (ATR) team is undertaking deeper analysis into the findings to understand why certain countries are receiving more threats related to COVID-19 than others, as well a deeper dive into sector analysis. We will regularly report any relevant details, and of course share all IoCs with the wider community to ensure we all remain safe. As we continue to hunt for further threat artefacts, we will make our findings available through this forum.
Working from home threats contextualized
All over the world large numbers of people are rushed to work from home unprepared, sometimes even from their personal devices. Often, these devices are not maintained with proper security measures and possibly leave organizations open to various attacks.
Over the last year we have published several articles on how targeted ransomware attacks are fuelling the increased demand in the underground for compromised corporate networks. One often-used criminal access method is through “commodity malware,” such as banking malware and info-stealers. The criminals are actively sifting through thousands of logs hoping to find corporate network or remote management credentials.
Commodity malware is often focused directly at consumers, so accessing corporate networks from possible pre-infected personal machines without adequate security measures creates a much larger attack surface for cybercriminals. This increases the risk of an organization falling victim to a potential breach and ransomware lockdown.
Figure 2. A screenshot of the popular KPOT info stealer, part of an underground advertisement to sell stolen credentials. (notice the malware collects VPN, RDP and Mail credentials)
Just like we are all fighting to flatten the COVID-19 curve by social isolation and washing our hands, we should aim to flatten the cyber-attack surface of our organizations by having proper cyber security hygiene by using multi-factor authentication, VPNs, and robust End-Point security software.
Employees working from home will need clear guidance on acceptable security practices from an organizational perspective:
- Remote working policy guidance: While many organizations may employ wider guidance on cybersecurity/privacy guidance within their organizations there will likely be employees unaware of the expectations for remote working. Equally, this may also apply to security expectations, therefore any such policy must be reviewed but also effectively communicated to a wider group of employees now working from outside the organization’s offices.
- Asset classification: With a larger set of the workforce now working from home, previously inaccessible information assets will need to be available for remote use. Subsequently, enhanced security measures will be necessary to ensure that information is only made available to those with a clear need to know.
- Strong authentication: With passwords ubiquitous, and two-factor authentication now commonplace, ensuring the appropriate level of authorization for key assets is in place will be critical.
- Awareness: All of the processes, and technology deployed within an organization can be simply undone by a lack of awareness. Ensuring all employees are made aware of the potential risks of connecting remotely is critical. It is especially important to be aware of cloud services authorized for work purposes and extra vigilant for targeted phishing emails.
- VPN access: The term untrusted network is rarely a consideration when working in the office, however with so many employees connecting from externally located environments there is the potential for certain networks to be untrusted. While many will not be venturing into public spaces to limit social contact, there is no assurance that the connection every employee is connecting from is secure. Therefore, leveraging a VPN will be imperative, and indeed organizations may want to enforce certain assets only being accessible via the VPN.
Secure Mobile Working
Here are some key considerations for those responsible for enabling secure remote working capability:
- Protecting against accidental data loss. Data encryption is fundamental to good device security hygiene and essential for enabling secure mobile working. Ensure that you have situational awareness of the end user security controls and can quickly report on the status when the inevitable question comes down from the CISO.
- Providing an equivalent level of threat prevention. While on the office network or VPN, end user devices enjoy a defense in depth capability. However, do they have that same protection when not on the VPN? Using anti-malware solutions which employ cloud-based behavior analysis and threat intelligence combined with cloud-based web security can help ensure an equivalent level of security both on and off the network.
- Secure cloud collaboration. Many employees will need to leverage cloud-based services such as Microsoft Teams and WebEx to collaborate both internally and externally. Ensure you can apply your corporate DLP policies to those cloud-native applications and that your users are fully aware of the authorized collaboration tools at their disposal.
- Secure cloud access. Attackers will leverage spear-phishing emails with Corona Virus themes and watering hole attacks from compromised web sites to target workers and prey on the situation. Reduce the attack surface by tightening web security policies and block access to risky cloud services.
- Phishing incident response. You will not be able to prevent everything so having a balanced security capability with detection and response is important. Security Operations should review incident response procedures for phishing, deploy Cloud-based EDR for rapid identification of compromised remote end user devices, and ensure users know how to submit suspect emails to the SOC.
A wealth of good advice and information is freely available including the Security Awareness Work-from-Home Deployment Kit from the SANS Institute which provides “multiple assets that address everything from securing a home network to best practices when working remotely to identifying social engineering attacks.” While the need to enable access as quickly as possibly is understandable, there are those hoping to exploit this urgency for their own personal gain.
With many people having their normal day to day life turned upside down, scammers are capitalizing on consumers’ newfound lifestyles to make a financial gain or wreak havoc on users’ devices. Let’s take a look at the most recent threats that have emerged as a result of the pandemic.
Fraudulent Relief Checks
On Wednesday March 25, the Senate passed a relief bill that contains a substantial increase in unemployment benefits for Americans who have lost their jobs or have been furloughed due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. Financial scammers are likely to use this as an opportunity to steal money offered to Americans who are facing the negative economic effects of the pandemic, as these crooks could make consumers believe they need to pay money as a condition of receiving government relief. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent activity as the government implements these financial relief packages.
Map Used to Track Pandemic Used to Spread Malware
According to security researcher Brian Krebs, criminals have started disseminating real-time, accurate information about global infection rates to spread malware. In one scheme, an interactive dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University is being used in malicious websites (and possibly in spam emails) to spread password-stealing malware. Additionally, Krebs flagged a digital pandemic infection kit, which allows other criminals to purchase a bundled version of the map with the scammer’s preferred attack method.
Texts, WhatsApp, and TikTok Spread Falsehoods
Due to the nature of the rapidly evolving pandemic, criminals are taking advantage of the situation by spreading misinformation. As more communities are being ordered to shelter in place, misleading text messages announcing a national quarantine claiming to come from the White House buzzed onto cell phones around the U.S. According to the Washington Post, the fraudulent text messages encouraged users to, “Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two-week supply of everything. Please forward to your network.” These fake texts spread so widely that the White House’s National Security Council debunked the misleading claims in a Twitter post stating, “Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown.” Communication apps like WhatsApp and social media platforms like TikTok have carried similar examples of this misinformation.
Robocalls Offering Free Test Kits and Low-Cost Health Insurance
On top of fraudulent messages floating around via SMS, WhatsApp, and TikTok, scammers are also using robocalls to spread misinformation around the global pandemic, especially as more users are at home and available to answer phone calls as a result of self-isolation. According to CNN, robocalls from more than 60 different phone numbers are falsely offering low-priced health insurance and free coronavirus test kits. Another type of robocall asks users to sign a petition to ban flights from China. Criminals are taking advantage of the fact that new information around the pandemic is constantly being released, presenting them with an opportunity to scam users by impersonating local and federal officials.
Stay Safe Online With These Tips
During this time of uncertainty, it can be difficult to decipher what is fact from fiction. When it comes to the potential online threats around the recent pandemic, here’s what you can do to stay protected:
Only trust official news sources
Be sure to only trust reputable news sites. This will help you filter out fake information that is just adding to the noise across the internet.
Don’t share your personal or financial data
Although financial relief checks are not yet a reality, know that the federal government will not ask you to pay fees or charges upfront to receive these funds. Additionally, the government will not ask you for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
Beware of messages from unknown users
If you receive a text, email, social media message, or phone call from an unknown user regarding the pandemic, it’s best to proceed with caution and avoid interacting with the message altogether.
Go directly to the source
If you receive information regarding the pandemic from an unknown user, go directly to the source instead of clicking on links within messages or attachments. For example, users should only trust the map tracking the pandemic’s spread found on the Johns Hopkins website. Using a tool like McAfee WebAdvisor can help users stay safe from similar threats while searching the web.
Register for the FCC’s “Do Not Call” list
This can help keep you protected from scammers looking to capitalize on current events by keeping your number off their lists.
For many Malaysians, the announcement by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) of the 6-month automatic deferment of all loans was met with relief. At a time when job security is non-existent in Malaysia and across the globe, the decision to offer no penalties for not paying off a substantial monthly commitment is welcome news indeed.
That said, there remains quite a bit of confusion and misunderstanding on the matter. How exactly will the deferment change the terms of our current loans? Are we still paying interest during the deferment period? How significant is the announcement that banks are waiving compounding interest during the deferment period?
In this article, we will break down all aspects of the BNM deferment, and how it will affect any loans that we may have.
Hire Purchase Agreements
More popularly known as car loans, they work on a flat interest rate, which means the interest rate is agreed upfront, and is charged on a fixed amount (in this case, the value of the loan) throughout the tenure.
During the 6-month deferment period, there will be no additional interest charged. This is because the interest follows a flat rate basis, and since the principal sum does not increase, you will enjoy a true “payment holiday” with no implications from today until the end of September.
Note that this explanation applies only to flat-rate car loans (which is the most popular car loan in the country). For variable rate car loans, the calculations will follow a reducing balance interest charge – please refer to the mortgage loan explanation below.
Just like hire purchase agreements, personal loans and personal financing follow a flat-rate basis for the interest/profit rates. This means that regardless of your outstanding balance, you will pay a fixed interest or profit rate where the total is set by you and the lender. Therefore, there will be no additional interest chargedduring the 6-month deferment period.
While all banks offering personal loan or financing are covered under the BNM deferment programme, non-bank entities may still be offering their own assistance. Aeon Credit Service, for example, is offering a one-month deferment for all existing personal loans and financing, and like BNM’s initiative, it is an automatic deferment. For other lenders, please check with them if you would like to seek a deferment.
Mortgage Loans/Home Loans
Home loans or mortgages are where things can get very confusing – this is where the BNM 6-month deferment will affect Malaysians the most.
As most home loans charge interest on a reducing balance basis, interest is charged each month based on the total outstanding balance from the previous month. With the six-month deferment, BNM and all banks have stated that borrowers do not need to pay anything during this period – BUT interest will still accrue. We checked all banks’ as well as BNM’s FAQ on this, and they all confirm that interest will accrue during this period.
What about the non-compounding interest? As of 31 March 2020, all Malaysian banks as well as the HOUS foreign banks (HSBC, OCBC, UOB, and Standard Chartered) have all announced that they will not be compounding interest for the accumulated interest during the 6-month deferment period. It definitely sounds noble, but how much is this amount exactly?
To illustrate, let’s say you have just taken a conventional home loan with outstanding balance as of 31 March 2020 at RM500,000. Your home loan interest rate is 4% p.a. and monthly repayment is RM2,390.52. The table below shows how much interest that will accrue during the deferment period, both if it compounds and if it does not:
|Month||Interest charge (non-compounding)||Interest charge (compounding)|
As you can see, despite what the banks are saying, the compounding interest charges that they are all waiving isn’t actually a very big sum (from an individual perspective).
But from a macroeconomic scale, this value quickly turns into a very, very big amount for the banks. Data from the National Property Information Centre shows that between 2009 until 2018, there were over 2.3 million residential properties sold. Assuming all of these properties were sold via home loans, the value of the 6-month non-compounding interest could actually come up to hundreds of millions of Ringgit in potential revenue for the banks in Malaysia.
That being said, let’s not forget that banks are still generating revenue from the accrued interest over the six months. Depending on how you repay this accrued interest, you would still end up additionally paying a minimum of six months’ worth of interest into your home loan. Note, also, that all banks are saying that they will not compound interest “during the deferment period” – none of the FAQs say that there will be no interest compounding from October 2020 onwards.
The exception to this is of course Islamic financing plans, where profit cannot be made from profit. This carries a huge implication, because with zero compounding of profit anywhere, you’ll effectively only be paying the accrued interest (i.e. RM10,000.02 from the example above) and nothing more.
What’s the best repayment option after the deferment programme?
With six months’ worth of interest to pay, it’s how you pay it that will determine how much more you will end up paying. We found that in general, banks will offer three options of repaying this amount:
- Pay the accrued interest in one lump sum in October 2020 in addition to your usual monthly repayment. Loan tenure and repayment amount remains unchanged.
- Pay the same monthly repayment amount from October 2020 onwards, but the loan tenure will be extended to accommodate the additional interest payment.
- Pay a higher monthly repayment from October 2020 onwards to accommodate the additional interest payment, but the loan tenure will not be changed.
The banks may have other options, but these three are the most common ones offered. You should check with your bank on your available options before opting in for the deferment just in case. Let’s break down how each of the three options above will affect you and your wallet in the long term.
In the explanations below we will continue to use the example of a RM500,000 outstanding conventional home loan at 4% interest p.a.
Option 1: Pay the accrued interest in one lump sum
This is the option where you pay the least additional interest – but might be the one that’s most difficult to do. By deferring the payment for six months, you’ll free up RM2,390.52 each month to use for buying groceries and other essentials if the extra cash is needed. But remember, this isn’t free money – this is the amount you’d have to spend for your home loan.
However, you will accrue RM10,000.02 in additional interest during the deferment period. For those who will need the deferment to free up cash flow during these six months, Option 1 will definitely be a stretch – how to raise RM10,000.02 when there isn’t even enough money to pay for bills?
However, for those who have the means to pay their monthly repayments but are curious if this deferment is an opportunity to make some money, we can safely say it is possible – but it’s highly dependent on what saving/investment instrument you use, and your investment horizon. And in this economic climate, you could potentially lose even more money by investing the repayment money. We will explore this further in our Recommendations section below.
Option 2 (A) & (B): Pay the same monthly repayment, and extend loan tenure
For option 2 (A), you will pay the amount as you did before, but the loan tenure will have to be extended to accommodate the six months of additional interest accrued. In the RM500,000 outstanding home loan example, you’ll be extending the tenure by a whopping 21 months (and not just by six months, because the interest accrued during the 6 months will be added to the principal and accrue interest from the resumption of payment). The total additional interest charge for this option is RM33,866.34. Do not opt for this.
Some banks will also offer Option 2 (B), which is extending your loan tenure by 6 months (i.e. the same duration as the deferment period), but you will be required to bump up your monthly repayment. In the RM500,000 home loan example, you will need to pay a new monthly amount of RM2,438.33 (RM47.81 more than before). The total additional interest charge for this option is RM17,163.94. That’s lower than Option 2 (A), but here’s a better option:
Option 3: Pay a higher monthly repayment, but keep the loan tenure unchanged
This option is the best repayment option to take. Because you are opting to pay more each month to offset the outstanding balance (both principal + original interest and deferred period interest), the total interest charge will also be lower. The new monthly repayment amount will be RM2,459.88 until the end of the loan – RM69.36 more than your old repayment amount. The total additional interest charge for this option is RM10,139.68 – just RM139.66 more than Option 1 where you fork out a huge lump sum.
To summarise, here’s a table to show the possible repayment options after the deferment period, and how much additional interest will be charged as a result of the deferment:
*Update 6 Apr: Fixed error on Option 1 (loan tenure should be +6 months)
As you can see, how you repay your loans after the deferment period makes a huge difference.
What about Islamic home financing?
Now, if you’re on an Islamic home financing plan, you can ignore all of the calculations above. Since Syariah principles forbid compounding profit (i.e. no profit from accrued profit), regardless of whichever repayment option you choose, the financial commitments will be the same: you just need to repay the accrued profit from the 6-month deferment (i.e. RM10,000.02 in the example used in this article).
It’s best to check with your bank on how the repayment will be implemented.
Relief For Those Who Need It
As you can see from the calculations above, the total additional interest charged is certainly a huge number, but when spread over a few decades this number becomes noticeably more manageable. This is something important to keep in mind.
To put it in context, someone servicing a 30-year home loan with RM500,000 outstanding may lose their jobs during this period. This deferment frees up RM2,390.52 each month from their monthly commitment, which can mean having food on the table, buying schoolbooks for the children, not defaulting on a loan, and overall, alleviating immense financial stress. In exchange, when things are hopefully better, he or she pays RM47.81 or RM69.36 more to their home loan repayments each month for the next 30 years.
For those who don’t have a choice, this trade-off is worth every Ringgit.
Should you take the deferment? Our recommendation
Take the deferment if…
- you have an existing car loan or personal loan (and their Islamic financing equivalents). This is a no-brainer – you suffer no implications, and your loan resumes from October 2020. You should already receive an SMS from your bank informing you of the deferment to your existing loan, and how to opt out.
- you face some serious cash flow issues during this period and have no emergency funds – this deferment is to alleviate this exact concern. If your employer has imposed a salary cut – or worse, a round of layoffs – this deferment will ease the financial stress. Don’t forget to also check what financial aids you are eligible for. This is a very difficult period, but we can pull through.
- you foresee a potential cash flow issue – with no job security across all industries, you’ll never know what might happen. Even if you can afford to service your loans, at the very least this deferment helps you build a buffer for the future (see below). Note that you can opt in for the deferment at any time during these six months, so you don’t have to make a decision now.
- your risk appetite is high enough, or if your investment horizon is long. You can make use of the monthly repayment to make more money (provided you have enough money set aside for other commitments). Here’s how much you stand to earn if you put this amount in a fixed deposit or an investment product (assuming you invested ALL the 6-month repayment, selected repayment option 3, made no withdrawals, and the projected returns are guaranteed):
- Finally, if you are on an Islamic home financing plan, take the deferment. Syariah principles forbid any form of compound profit, which makes a huge difference in terms of how much profit you pay to the bank. With zero compound profit on both the principal and the accrued profit during the deferment, you’ll enjoy the best of both worlds (6 months payment deferment and low profit charge).
DON’T take the deferment if…
You should understand that this deferment programme is primarily aimed at those who may face immense financial distress due to the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are able to service your loan as usual and are financially secure in this economic climate, you can consider opting out of the deferment programme.
That said, it makes sense to still take the deferment and save the money in a fixed deposit with 4% p.a. returns for the next 30 years. If you chose repayment Option 3 in the example above, you will earn a nett amount of RM22,970.51 (after deducing the interest charges in the same timeframe). It may not be much, but hey, this is RM22,970.51 more in your pocket than if you didn’t take the deferment whatsoever.
BNM’s deferment programme is a beneficial step for all Malaysians currently servicing any form of loans/financing plans, and an important one during this challenging period. We recommend those eligible to take the deferment, as those who will need it will have a brief respite, while those who can afford to service their loans can actually earn some money by saving or investing the deferred instalments.