Press release: Defeating Digital Viruses

Journalists sitting and writing in notepads

Looks at the hyperbolic language of ‘cyber pandemic’ sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt

Applying a public health model to cybersecurity could mean measures like mandatory reporting, education; better data for risk diagnosis; and better outcomes

“Practise Safe Cyber” one alternative framing

Embargo: 21 March 2023 7pm

We would like to invite you to Defeating Digital Viruses: Lessons from the Pandemic, by Professor Victoria Baines, 21 March 2023.

In this lecture, Professor Baines will talk about the way that cyber security is often linked to the public health language of ‘infection’ and ‘viruses’, sometimes in a hyperbolic way. Professor Baines will make suggestions for how we can make online safety and security more empowering, amusing, and even fun for the average non-tech citizen, and will look at examples of what could work.

She will discuss the virtues of applying a public health model to dealing with digital viruses, looking at how risk behaviours such as sharing passwords, not installing antivirus and clicking unchecked links, could be paralleled to poor nutrition, smoking, lack of exercise etc; for which there are public health interventions. 

“Following this model, communicable cyber threats such as email spoofing or unwittingly being the intermediary for an attack as part of a botnet of compromised devices are met with system-level interventions drawn from public health, including quarantine, mandatory reporting of new cases, educational information and guidelines for early detection.”

rofessor Baines will go on to say: “Cybersecurity and online safety require the active engagement of individuals, but also of the public at a societal level. In public health terms, this means public education. It also means placing importance on prevention: primary prevention seeks to minimise the threat by addressing risk behaviours and promoting generalised protections; secondary prevention seeks to reduce the impact of a disease or incident through targeted intervention; the aim of tertiary prevention, meanwhile is to manage long term effects and reduce the risk of recurrence.”

She will conclude: “Borrowing from public health campaigns, we can instead consider how we might promote ‘cyber hygiene’, encourage people to ‘practise safe cyber’, and even keep our communities ‘cyber clean and tidy’….The COVID-19 pandemic showed that many people are capable of taking measures to protect themselves and their communities. So why don’t we entrust them to do the same with cybersecurity? We’ve tried fear, uncertainty, and doubt for the last three decades and it hasn’t worked. Let’s harness the lessons of the last few years to improve our cyber health. As a community, we stand a better chance of defeating digital viruses.”

You can sign up to watch this hybrid lecture online or in person.

Notes to Editors

You can sign up to watch the hybrid lecture online or in person; or email us for an embargoed transcript or speak to Professor Baines: / 07799 738 439

Read more about Professor Victoria Baines

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