Protecting what connects us in a time of crisis

April 09, 2020 | By Ajay Bhalla

Amid the headlines about the devastating impact of COVID-19, we’ve witnessed many moments of grace. Amateur tailors stitching masks for dangerously under-equipped doctors and nurses. Neighborhoods joining together to applaud healthcare workers. Cities united by song.

Unfortunately, some people are trying to take advantage of the ongoing disruption and disarray. People, businesses and institutions already unmoored by the coronavirus crisis might be more at risk from criminal activity, including scams, cyberattacks and financial fraud. 

A recent Europol report detailed a long and growing list of cyberattacks, including phishing campaigns that distribute malware via malicious links and attachments, and ransomware attacks that aim to profit from the crisis, with potentially devastating effects. For example, a cyberattack in mid-March on a Czech hospital that has one of the country’s largest COVID-19 testing facilities led to an immediate IT shutdown, forcing officials to cancel operations and relocate acute patients. Healthcare workers had to take and share notes by hand, likely delaying care.

As healthcare workers heroically tend to the vulnerable, the last worry healthcare organizations need is wondering whether they are vulnerable to cyberattacks. 

Now all healthcare organizations worldwide have a powerful new tool to keep their systems secure and their care uninterrupted at this time of crisis: the commercial-grade capabilities of RiskRecon, a Mastercard company, is being offered for free through Dec. 31, 2020.  RiskRecon is partnering with the Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center (H-ISAC), a global nonprofit that helps healthcare organizations coordinate, collaborate and share vital physical and cyber threat intelligence and best practices with each other, for this cybersecurity ratings assessment. 

Vigilance at all levels 

Criminals can exploit the fact that more companies are encouraging their employees to work from home, allowing connections to their systems that, with the growing internet of things, might make them more vulnerable to attack. This requires even more vigilance at all levels, particularly by organizations on the frontlines of cyberattacks. To stay alert and to deter large-scale fraud that can cause significant losses quickly, we are sharing with our customers a three-point plan to heighten fraud prevention, monitoring and response.

Among the tactical measures we recommend: applying strong passwords and remote connection policies for all employees, with two-factor authentication for access to administration interfaces, and ensuring rules are set to decline or alert mode for high-risk transactions. Such transactions could be irregular or higher-than-usual purchases or cash withdrawals, multiple transactions by the same card or transactions from high-risk locations.

The coronavirus presents major challenges for all industries. For example, mass cancellations of  upcoming vacations, concerts, sporting events, business trips and conferences means millions of people are in the process of getting refunds, adding more stress for consumers and more pressure for businesses. To alleviate transaction disputes, on April 1, we enabled increased communication, collaboration and transparency among issuers, merchants and acquirers to resolve consumer disputes before they enter the formal chargeback process within 24 hours. We are providing an introductory offer to new merchant customers for free for the next three months. We want to make it as easy as possible for merchants to get the benefits of the feature. 

To protect personal information from cyberthieves, Mastercard always offers ID Theft Protection to U.S. small business cardholders free as part of their Mastercard benefits package. Through July 31, 2020, Mastercard is extending this free ID Theft Protection benefit to all U.S. small business owners — not just Mastercard cardholders — enabling every small business to better monitor and resolve identity theft during this crisis.

Times like these call for bold acts to address this global challenge. A crisis also can spark innovation and creativity — some of the actions we are taking now can have lasting impact. By protecting what connects us in times of crisis, we can create a stronger, more resilient world in the recovery and beyond.

Ajay Bhalla, President, Cyber & Intelligence