Here’s an overview of some of the latest COVID-19 coronavirus developments on the government and tech fronts:
Microsoft Identifies Hospitals Vulnerable to a Cyberattack
As healthcare organizations are focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercriminals are looking for ways to exploit their networks – mainly by ransomware attacks. The Microsoft Threat Protection Intelligence Team was able to identify several dozens of hospitals with vulnerable gateway and virtual private network appliances in their infrastructure. Microsoft then sent out what it calls a “first-of-its-kind targeted notification.” The Threat Protection Intelligence Team informed hospitals about their vulnerabilities, how attackers can take advantage of them, and a “strong recommendation” to apply security updates to prevent attacks. ?
DoJ, HHS Partner to Distribute Confiscated Medical Supplies
The Departments of Justice (DoJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) partnered to redistribute more than 500,000 medical supplies confiscated from price gougers, including nearly 200,000 N95 respirator masks. The supplies were discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on March 30 as a part of investigations by the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force. “If you are amassing critical medical equipment for the purpose of selling it at exorbitant prices, you can expect a knock at your door,” Attorney General William Barr warned. HHS will pay the hoarder pre-COVID-19 fair market value for the supplies and they will be redistributed to healthcare facilities in New York and New Jersey.
House Committee Chairs Ask for Extension on Public Comment Periods
Fourteen House committee chairs sent a letter to the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought Wednesday requesting that public hearings, meetings, and comment periods be rescheduled until after the end of the declared national emergency.
“The right of the American people to meet with Federal agencies and comment on proposed actions is invariably affected by the ongoing pandemic,” the committee chairs wrote. The chairs asked that public comment periods be extended by at least 45 days after the national emergency’s end.
The letter cites a significant change to the Environment Protection Agency’s Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science Rule as an example of a public comment period that should be extended because of the pandemic.
“We are concerned that the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will deprive citizens, local communities, and other stakeholders the opportunity to engage with agencies on these major policy revisions and many other rulemakings,” the committee chairs wrote.
New Center Shares Pandemic Voting Tips
The New Center, a think tank promoting centrist politics, released a guide to voting during the coronavirus pandemic as many states postpone primary elections. So far, 12 states and one territory – Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia – have postponed primary elections and few others – Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming – have made the switch to mail-in ballots. The guide explains the legal provisions influencing state and local decisions to postpone elections and suggests that the possibility of postponing the general election in November is highly unlikely. As states adapt to the changing pandemic situation, the center recommends expanding mail-in voting options, enacting measures to secure mail-in ballots, and keeping the option to vote in person wherever possible.
Crowdstrike Shares Biggest Workforce Cyber Challenges
Crowdstrike explained some of the top cyber challenges facing organizations as they switch to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic at an April 2 webinar. The cybersecurity tech company said that the ongoing need for security and access to limited resources can make it difficult for organizations to defend against attackers that have previously succeeded, enable remote communication between security teams, and protect a growing network. If attacked, organizations may face additional challenges keeping a remote workforce functioning and recovering without an IT or security team physically present. “Ultimately, resiliency is critical here,” Director of Managed Services Gary Ruiz concluded.
Schools Transitioning to Online Learning
The students in Superintendent Eric Godfrey’s Buckeye Union High School District in Arizona, are all in high school and have digital devices, but the transition to online learning still has been difficult.
Making technology from an enhancement tool to the primary driver of learning is a huge lift, said Godfrey, speaking today during an online event from the Learning Counsel. After Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that schools were closed for remainder of school year, Godfrey said the focus shifted to creating “online educational experiences” for students.
Logistical challenges like making sure students have device chargers and internet access have arisen, but “we’re also worried about the social side of things,” Godfrey said. Prom, athletics, and other events are all experiences to which students look forward. Right now, Godfrey said the district is just trying to make sure students feel a sense of community rather than teach new content.
Learning new content is not the priority for students in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Public Schools either, said Matthew Nickerson, the county’s Instructional Technology Specialist. Nickerson said the first step for teachers is to “get used to the tools” online and “get your kids used to the tools.”