Young scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) say the rise in misinformation could be harmful to society, cautioning against sharing such information on social media as it may cause public panic.
Speaking during a briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday, organised as part of Youth Month, young researchers shared their work in cybercrime activities and the spread of misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nelisiwe Dlamini, a researcher at the CSIR, said it was important to verify information before hitting the share button, especially information about Covid-19.
“Some of the young people are becoming instigators of the spread of false information that has the potential to create panic during the pandemic in the country.”
Dlamini added there were useful ways to verify information before sharing it.
“Looking up the author of the story and looking for a backing from experts on the subject matter are often one’s best bet to verifying the credibility of a story or breaking news.
“Combating the impact of the global Covid-19 crisis is difficult enough without the uncontrolled spread of extremely harmful content on social media platforms.”
While many were confined to their houses during the nationwide lockdown and working from home, the reliance on online technology had increased cyber risks, she said.
The CSIR has established a Security Operations Centre (SOC) which houses an information security team who are responsible for monitoring and analysing these risks.
It aims to detect, analyse and respond to cybersecurity incidents for local municipalities and other entities to use to protect themselves against this.
Thabo Mahlangu, a cybersecurity researcher at the CSIR, said the pandemic had created opportunities for criminals online.
“Cybercriminals have quickly adapted to using the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to launch themed attacks in vulnerable environments. To mitigate this, we have adapted a data-driven security, the SOC, approach to forecast potential malware attacks and fight against phishing attacks.
“With employees now working remotely, connecting to employers’ networks via various online platforms brings about many security challenges,” Mahlangu added.
“There is an increase in attempts to steal data from users, malware and phishing attempts, breaches on video conferencing platforms, and scams and fraudulent activities using digital means.”
Also speaking at the briefing was Kedimotse Baruni, a CSIR biometric researcher who showcased facial biometric technology which is a contactless mechanism of identity verification.
She said this type of technology could curb the spread of infectious disease like Covid-19 by using the eyes, mouth, jaw and nose features to identify an individual.
It could be used in hospitals and public areas, reduces the need for technologies like fingerprint scanning and has an accuracy rating of 99%.
“Identifying people at hospitals and banks using contact identification is also a concern for the spread of Covid-19.
“The CSIR is using its facial recognition technology to assist with a contactless way of identifying people as it will reduce the need for objects such as fingerprint scanners to be touched by several people, inevitably eliminating the risk of contamination,” Baruni said.