Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Panic-Demic

Here are a few idle thoughts and personal takeaways about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing panic among the public, in the financial markets, etc.:

  • Supply chains that are built around the concept of enabling sellers to provide products at the lowest possible price don’t weather pandemics very well. Depending so heavily on a single country for manufacturing is clearly susceptible to a Black Swan event like the one in which we’re currently embroiled. As investors are almost always advised to diversify their portfolios, manufacturers should diversify their supply chains to weather disruptive events more effectively.
  • Nation-state actors and cyber terrorists have been provided with an excellent example of how they might be able to severely disrupt life in developed countries, particularly the United States. While COVID-19 is a certainly a serious issue that requires the appropriate level of response, the panic buying of toilet paper, flour, sugar, milk, eggs, cake mixes, baby formula, diapers, cat litter (yes, cat litter!), etc. is clearly an overresponse when food-related supply chains, at least in the United States and many other developed nations, are still largely intact.
  • To the point above, imagine if a nation-state actor or terrorist organization were successful in taking a handful of power plants off-line with the threatening message that more would be taken off-line in the near future. As demonstrated with the COVID-19 panic, there would be a huge run on not only basic necessities, but also on things like batteries, generators, flashlights, and hundreds of other items. It wouldn’t just be grocery stores and Costco stores with thousand-foot lines, but also Home Depot, Lowes and lots of hardware stores.
  • Our residential broadband infrastructure seems to be holding up quite well with the addition of several million home-workers now suddenly added to the traffic burden. While I’m sure there are instances of poor broadband services for residential workers because of the additional load, they seem to be few and far between.
  • One of the positives that may come out of this crisis is the realization by many decision-makers that lots of in-person meetings that incur significant travel costs can be easily replaced with on-line meetings. While not good for the already decimated travel and hospitality industries, we might experience a new wave of meeting efficiency that we hadn’t anticipated.
  • There is likely to be a major increase, at least temporarily, in the number of victims of cybercrime and data breaches. As employees use their home computers – with inadequate endpoint protection and networks that incorporate hackable routers – to access corporate email and data assets on the corporate network, the security defenses that normally defend sensitive data resources will be bypassed in many cases. Expect a major uptick in security problems until organizations adapt to the new, hopefully temporary, reality of most or all of their workforce working remotely.
  • Similarly, expect a major increase in social media-related cybercrime because people are hungry for information about COVID-19, and they’ll click on links that purport to offer information about it. As noted by Brian Krebs six days ago, a live Coronavirus map developed by Johns Hopkins University is being exploited as part of an infection kit that uses the tool as a component of a Java-based malware deployment plot.

In short, lots of problems to be expected in the near- to mid-term until a combination of decreasing infection rates and whatever new crisis is in the offing move our attention to some different topic.

Coronavirus Taking Its Toll on Industry Conferences

Here’s a partial list of the impact that the Coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, is having on tech industry conferences worldwide as of Friday afternoon, February 21st:

  • RSA Conference, San Francisco
    Verizon today pulled out of next week’s event. They were preceded by AT&T Cybersecurity yesterday and IBM on February 14th. In addition, 10 other exhibitors — three from the United States, six from China, and one from Canada — have pulled out of the conference. Of the nine exhibitors from China that were scheduled for RSA, six have pulled out; the three remaining will be staffing their booths with individuals from the United States. RSA is expected to draw up to 45,000 attendees this year.
  • Mobile World Congress, Barcelona
    This conference, scheduled for February 24-27 and which normally draws about 100,000 attendees, was cancelled on February 12th. The announcement followed LG, Google, AT&T, Airbus, Sony, Cisco, Facebook, Nvidia, Amazon and several other exhibitors announcing that they were pulling out of the show.
  • DEF-CON China, Beijing
    This conference, scheduled for April 17-19, has been put on hold for six months because “China has announced a six-month hold on events like ours as part of the effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak”.
  • Facebook Global Marketing Summit, San Francisco
    The March 9-12 summit, expected to draw 4,000 participants, was cancelled by Facebook’s management “out of an abundance of caution.”
  • PAX East 2020, Boston
    Sony Playstation pulled out of this major video game conference because of fears over the virus.

In addition to these, more than two dozen trade shows in Asia have been cancelled because of the Coronavirus outbreak.