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Cyber-Attacks and Trust Issues: Challenges People Face During Online Negotiations Amid Pandemic

© REUTERS / ALBERT GEAA student takes online classes at home using the Zoom APP
A student takes online classes at home using the Zoom APP - Sputnik International
Despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has confined most of the world to spending all day, every day within four walls, life - while drastically changed - goes on due to technological progress. Work, education, shopping, meetings with relatives, and parties with friends – it seems everything has become digital.

Businessmen and politicians spend long hours and even days in negotiations - a luxury they can’t afford right now. Like the rest of us, they have had to go digital. But how safe and successful will these online meetings be? Sputnik spoke with security experts to understand how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the negotiation process.

New Paradigm & Strong Encryption

Millions of people worldwide are working from home now. According to Gary Miliefsky, a renowned cybersecurity expert, the coronavirus outbreak will lead to a massive trend of remote office working, which will "strain the fabric of the Internet itself".

"This will test our patience with technology, our ability to shift quickly into a new paradigm and our willingness to finally embrace strong encryption, without backdoors – so government officials can have secure communications amongst themselves and other nation states during global crisis”.

Mr Miliefsky also predicted high demand for management security service providers, cloud offerings, and software as a service providers.

"Shifting to online meetings, online summits and online gatherings only shifts the cyber attackers’ vectors and does not weaken their capabilities. In fact, I predict that ‘thin client’ computing such as Desktop as a Service will become the norm – a requirement for businesses of all sizes. The Software as a Service (SaaS) industry will flourish and the Amazon AWZ, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure cloud offerings, among others as well as MSSPs will see an incredible boom in business starting in April 2020 and beyond".

Cyber-Attacks With Unpredictable Consequences

There has been a rise in cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic, with hackers preying on everything from unsavvy users, to weak IT systems. Government departments and embassies are protected by intelligence agencies, but officials and diplomats could be at risk if they communicate from a private place, said Pierluigi Paganini, chief technical officer at Cybaze and a member of ENISA (European Union Agency for Cybersecurity).

"Even if best practices are implemented and adopted, we cannot exclude that threat actors could exploit zero-day vulnerabilities in communications systems to eavesdrop on communications. It is essential that communications systems and tools that could be used for smart-working, like VPN clients, are up to date. Diplomats are humans, they have a family, and are concerned about the coronavirus outbreak. Recently, several security firms have reported numerous coronavirus-themed attacks carried out by nation-state actors. To violate the digital kingdom of these people, it is sufficient with a simple spam message that uses a weaponised document that pretends to provide updates on the COVID-19 outbreak and on measures of prevention”.

Paganini stressed that cyber-attacks on diplomats could have unpredictable consequences.

"These are days of intense diplomatic activity due to the coronavirus outbreak, governments are discussing the safety of populations, economic measures to avoid crises and other sensitive topics. The leak of communications between government representatives could have a dramatic impact on public opinion and could exasperate existing tensions between states in any area of the globe. And let me say that rogue governments could benefit from this situation".

Best Tools for Communication

Kevin Curran, professor of cybersecurity at the Department of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at Ulster University, Northern Ireland, says governments should be careful when conducting business via messaging systems, noting that emails, apart from the secure end-to-end encrypted service ProtonMail developed by CERN, are notoriously insecure.

"If using messaging, the more secure apps are Signal and Telegram. These are built on solid open source strong encryption. Although it is worth noting that Telegram’s server side is not open source. Signal has an interesting feature called Screen Security offered in its privacy settings which will block other apps on a phone from taking screenshots of chats on Signal. Currently, WhatsApp is Facebook’s only service which uses end-to-end encryption as standard, while Facebook itself has it as an option and Instagram does not offer it at all".

Professor Curran noted that although end-to-end encryption ensures that no one will access the content of correspondence, one can tighten security to be certain that one is speaking with the right person.

"There is a type of man in the middle attack where an attacker has the SIM card of your friend so you are not actually speaking to your friend. To prevent this SIM card attack, you can go into settings and turn on the "Show Security Notifications" setting. Then if you can arrange a face-to-face meeting with that WhatsApp friend, you can scan a QR code so that all future conversations can only take place when the SIM card in that phone is actually in the other person’s phone".

No Human Touch, No Trust

A huge number of books have been written on how to conduct negotiations, with experts outlining techniques to understand interlocutors and win their trust in order to come to an agreement. Fernando Bruccoleri, a tech entrepreneur from Uruguay, contends that although there are numerous ways to communicate during the pandemic, this is still not enough to conduct negotiations, as they require direct contact.

"Definitely a negotiation is not the same without physical presence, without our expressions, without our communication habits. Face-to-face is important in order to build trust. Diplomacy is a delicate job, it requires a permanent movement, cordiality, personal greetings. Something that is currently impossible to do due to the pandemic".
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