Tech Roundup: March 2020

March 2020 will forever go down in history as the month that the COVID-19 pandemic truly broke open in the United States, bringing on economic stagnation and new terms like “social distancing” and “harbor in place.” The tech industry was not immune to these changes. Stocks across the board tumbled. California, the center of the US software and technology industry, went into lockdown. 

In the face of crisis, however, came new innovations. Video chat and online meeting software saw a rise to prominence as more and more Americans made the switch to working from home. People turned to the Internet for information on the ever-changing crisis, and were greeted by helpful new tools to monitor the spread of COVID-19 (as well as malware designed to impersonate these tools). Other tech companies introduced products that they claim may help to speed up economic recovery.

We break down some of the top stories of the month that you need to know here:

Video calling expands

With office buildings around the country temporarily shuttered and people forced to find new ways to see their friends and family without gathering in person, video calling and chat services have seen a spike in business. According to Vox, use of the video calling service Zoom for work spiked by over 30 percent in places with travel restrictions. The company’s stock has risen about 20 percent in the past few weeks.

In response to the pandemic, major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Slack and Zoom have begun offering many of the basic versions of their video calling services for free. Zoom, for example, lifted time limits on its free program. Microsoft, meanwhile, began offering a free version of its premium “Microsoft Teams” software.

For these companies, COVID-19 offers the opportunity to bring their video calling software into ubiquity, while also helping people stay in touch during these trying times. 

COVID-19 map may contain malware

With new cases of the Coronavirus comes a variety of online Coronavirus-themed scams. Hackers have developed malware to impersonate an interactive online map published by Johns Hopkins University that was designed to track the spread of COVID-19. Multiple types of malware are out there, including one first seen on a Russian cybercrime forum that steals passwords and another that allows bad actors to access your smartphone camera and microphone. The latter threat utilizes a commercially available spyware called SpyMax. The threat is specific to Android phones.    

Johns Hopkins University, for their part, have put out a statement addressing the wave of malicious imitators and clarifying that their original program is still completely safe to use. The real informational dashboard, available on Johns Hopkins’ website, does not require a download to access. Any map that does is an imitation and should be regarded with suspicion.

FinTech companies are ready for growth

Tech companies are offering people more than just ways to communicate with each other and stay up to date on essential information in these isolating times. Financial technology companies are creating innovative products even as the economy begins to backslide. According to Roll Call, some of these firms are offering their software as having the potential to speed up economic recovery once the crisis passes.

These companies include groups like Paxos Settlement Service, which is using blockchain to settle stock trades and Fundbox, which uses big data for small business evaluations. By increasing the efficiency of processes that traders and business owners depend on every day, both firms believe that they will make a positive difference during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

AI programming used to track pandemic spread

Academic institutions and companies are using artificial intelligence to track and predict the global spread COVID-19, according to US News and World Report. Proponents see these programs as being an accurate way to understand the scope of the pandemic, especially in places where testing is limited or the government is putting out seemingly incorrect information.

“There is a huge amount of data online and discussions often not coming from government channel but through news and chat rooms and blogs and social media…We need to sift through that information, classify it, sift through the noise, geocode, and then provide a view of emerging diseases,” said John Brownstein, a chief innovation officer at Harvard Medical School, when speaking to US News and World Report.

So far, these models have seen success at predicting where the virus will go next. Examples include a Canadian startup company that predicted that Coronavirus could be a global issue nine days before the World Health Organization. 

Oracle assisting White House with treatment research

The software company Oracle is forming a partnership with officials at the White House to help test potential COVID-19 treatments, according to the New York Times. The online platform, and plans for how it will be incorporated into testing, are still in the planning stages.

Amongst the drugs that the research team will most likely test are chloroquine and hydroxycloroquine. Chloroquine is commonly used as an antimalarial drug. While there is some anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of these drugs for treating the Coronavirus, no scientific study has confirmed this. Recently President Donald Trump was criticized by some health experts for referring to these drugs as a possible “game changer,” despite the lack of testing. It is unclear if Oracle will be involved in any clinical trials of these drugs.

March was a month of rapid change. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in the United States and around the world, the software and technology sector will find ways to innovate and adapt. At Faronics, we’re keeping up with the times, constantly working to ensure that our reboot-to-restore software is taking advantage of the newest breakthroughs and prepared to take on emerging security threats. The reboot-to-restore capabilities of Faronics Deep Freeze provides a simple solution for organizations with multiple users on a workstation. Get in touch to see what Faronics can do for you today.

About The Author

Suzannah Hastings

Suzannah is interested in all things digital, from software security to the latest technological advances. She writes about ways in which the increasingly internet-driven landscape and windows technologies like steady state alternative that change our lives, and what we can expect in the future.

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