Technology Changes Due to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the entire world to re-evaluate our daily lives and resulted in major changes to the way we work or attend school. COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, affecting almost all sectors, forcing many organizations to transfer their services via the Internet in a bid to limit disease spread. For many, local governmental lockdowns have resulted in a working from home (WFH) culture — which may very well be new order of the day for the foreseeable future.

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Office and educational institution closures have been closed, and stay-at-home orders have resulted in a major cultural change: students, corporate workers and self-employed persons must collaborate, learn, and develop business models via virtual means only. Saint Lucians have not been spared from the jaws of this “stay-at-home” situation, which has been on-going for almost a year. This policy will continue if there is a need to limit the spread of COVID-19 given the escalating numbers during the week of January 11th. Therefore, Saint Lucians must learn to adapt to the ever-growing changes of this fast-paced world. It may not come as surprise to us if the working culture will be permanently changed because of the COVID pandemic. The work environment may permanently transfer to home for a variety of services. However, if this transition to virtual school and work is not implemented correctly it may result in significant loss and security issues such as the disclosure of sensitive information.

A recent study by g5cybersecurity analyzed 13,791 websites which included 332 from Saint Lucia in 2020. The report indicated that websites’ belonged to arbitrary businesses and people in the Caribbean, and also delved into measuring the level of national progress in Cyber Security and Data Protection. This became even more important as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the key recommendations is that CARICOM has encouraged all member countries to create a single Information Communications Technology Space including the creation of National Cybersecurity Strategies. Can Saint Lucia have a National Cybersecurity Strategy similar to Belize in the near future?

Security risks in this new environment can be classified into several categories including the following: data privacy, applications, usage of personal devices, and computing environment which will be discussed further in the remainder of the post.

Data Privacy

The COVID-19 crisis has generated huge amounts of data through the different sectors’ transactions which needed to be secured. There are multiple questions that need to be addressed such as: where is data stored and secured as well as online legal requirements. Data owners should have full control over who has the right to gain access and proper authorization to use their own data. All institutional security policies must be adhered to; government should ensure that they these data security policies for which they are committing to are available to the public.

One of the basic needs for securing data transmission is the need to ensure the existence of a virtual private network (VPN); however, many VPNs are insecure. We hope that the government of Saint Lucia has followed recommended security practices and have ensured that the confidential data of Saint Lucians remain secure during the current Work-From-Home setup. It was concerning to read that only Heads of Department had access to the VPN: “We had already set up a VPN or a Virtual Private Network, that actually allows us to log into our network in order to access those services, and most of the heads of our departments have had access to the VPN long before COVID-19, so it is not anything new for us.”

Personal Device Security

In forcing people to work from home and children to do online schooling, COVID-19 has also led to the reuse of older devices which are possibly less secure. Many people working from home or completing online classes have insufficient knowledge about the information technology and the security issues related to it. Unfortunately, this can make security worse as these older devices may require updates for the operating system, anti-virus software, previously installed programs, and so forth. Cybercriminals will eventually see an opportunity to exploit people, as they have already developed malicious software to infect devices and obtain sensitive financial and medical information from the public. All of these devices might get infected with malware when connecting to the Internet for web applications usage. Malware may cause increased Internet traffic, leading to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and ultimately outages of critical infrastructure.

Computing Environment

It is critical that IT infrastructure is available to control and manage the significant increase in data during the COVID-19 pandemic and hence stability is a critical factor for all IT systems. This has spawned in the birth of a dramatic growth of cloud computing resources. Cloud’s enabling technologies are supporting the massive shift to remote work and learning (eg Zoom). There has been some efforts to leverage cloud platforms such as the OECS Cloud For Development (C4D) project which hoped to encourage more data-driven analysis . Saint Lucia did release the Open Data Portal though it is unclear how much the current government uses data during the decision making progress. The hope was that this initiative would help ensure that the Caribbean builds resilient infrastructure that will not be affected by natural disasters. Countries could then use these specifications to procure and deploy the appropriate cloud based solutions from the major commercial cloud providers. The World Bank has offered technical and legal assistance to the countries who want to adopt the Cloud For Development (C4D) approach. Can the government provide further details on how this would benefit the people of Saint Lucia?

It is good to see that CAMDU also has past papers available on Google Drive for Common Entrance and Minimum Standards Grade 4 and Grade 2. However, it would have been very useful for parents to have easy access to further educational materials during the months of online schooling that were required over 2020. The Ministry of Education needs to significantly improve their website which has very limited information such as their Ebooks page, which is a dead-end. This is unacceptable in the current COVID-19 world where communication via this medium is critical. The PM referenced the Ebooks program in his recent interview on Monday January 11th 2021, however this government has not provided much information about this programme. There was a news clipping in October 2020 which has limited information about this project though there still needs to be significantly more information about the project provided to the public.

While COVID-19 has resulted in major upheaval across our entire society, we have an opportunity to leverage technology for fundamental changes. This would be immensely beneficial for future generations and need the full participation of the entire society including the government.

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