The Parallels of Cyber Threats and the Coronavirus

Roie Onn
March 15, 2020
empty train station in sunset

Finding myself unexpectedly under home quarantine, intended to stem the Coronavirus outbreak, I’ve had some time to read, think and question this chain of events with myself – much more than I’ve been able to do before. The Corona disease is caused by the Covid-19 virus that has taken thousands of lives, gotten millions of people quarantined, and roiled the financial markets. It suddenly made me aware of how closely related this infectious disease is to an area close to my heart, protection of critical infrastructure, through cybersecurity solutions. It got me thinking that in many ways, malware and infectious diseases are comparable threats, no coincidence that malicious software is often described as a virus, and therefore both threats may require similar approaches and solutions.

Obviously, I am not alone in this opinion. Just last week Michael Kratsios, the White House’s Chief Technology Officer was quoted as saying that “Cutting-edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort.” According to the Washington Post, the White House will release additional information about the virus with the hope that such powerful companies will be able to analyze this data and understand the virus.

So let’s talk about the parallels; for one, both are contagious, thus the level of infection depends on the state of health of the network (physical or digital), and both can be threats to national and even international security. Second, the treatment of both threats requires similar actions: data collection, data analysis, detection, response, and future predictions. It’s interesting to think about such similarities, as this is the exact methodology we develop day in and day out at Cervello, (the company I co-founded) when designing our Rail cybersecurity solutions.

The more I studied the similarities, the more of them I found; malware and diseases have agents; the first binaries, the second pathogens. They are attracted to vulnerable targets, either unprotected systems or exposed individuals, and they require defense in the form of detection, confinement, and remedy. In both cases, the dangers are ever-expanding; new pathogens and cyber threats are always emerging. Therefore, keeping track and maintaining full visibility to eliminate any chance of blind spots is key. In both worlds, so much could be gained when studying history and policies.

Another similarity between both worlds is the high level of competence required for the detection and treatment of diseases. As an example, wherein in the medical world a virus needs to be studied before a vaccine is developed, the railway cyberspace requires deep knowledge of railway networks and operations to provide immunity from day one. This is exactly what we do at Cervello.  

Furthermore, in both worlds, securing the network (digital or physical) requires a high level of cooperation. In my professional capacity, it necessitates partnering with best-in-class vendors and providers for a high level of integration, to ensure security by design and enhanced safety.

In conclusion, we have seen the parallels and know that for years medical models (e.g statistical models of mutations) have served as the basis for understanding cyber attacks. It would be amazing if now, accumulated cyber experience and know-how could be leveraged to remedy infectious diseases and fight the Coronavirus.
It is my great hope that we will see some positive results in mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus and a breakthrough toward finding a vaccine in the near future.

*The original post was published on LinkedIn.