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How to protect your finances through COVID-19

During uncertain times, many feel anxious about how they will cope with unanticipated changes or hardships. Here are top tips to protect your finances during Covid-19.

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Communities around the world are feeling the impact of temporary closures of businesses, schools and public facilities. During uncertain times, many feel anxious about how they will cope with unanticipated changes or hardships.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented… emergency and we must all work together to reduce its overall impacts to allow families to recover once it has passed,” said OnPoint Community Credit Union CEO/president Rob Stuart.

Below are OnPoint Community Credit Union’s top tips for protecting finances amid COVID-19:

Your first actions  

  • Prioritize expenses and review your budget. If you’re concerned about a loss of income or unplanned expenses and don’t have emergency savings, you may need to prioritize which expenses you cover first and update your budget accordingly.
  • Deal with creditors proactively. If you face challenges in paying your monthly obligations, you have a better chance of working out an agreeable payment plan with creditors when you contact them early.
  • Know your options. Look into options that may be available for any loans you have – e.g. Home Equity Lines of Credit, Small Business Loans, and more.
  • Secure access to digital banking. If you aren’t able to physically visit your financial institution’s branch or call wait times are longer than expected, be prepared by downloading the most recent version with their app and test your login.

Protect yourself from scams
Scammers can be more active during uncertain times. To protect yourself and your family:

  • Be aware. Stay up to date on current scams and how to take action if you think you’ve been a victim. There are already national reports of email phishing scams targeting remote workers, offering economic stimulus checks and selling health insurance. OnPoint’s data security team has seen more debit and credit card fraud than average, and believes fraudsters are using the distraction of COVID-19 to get information.
  • Be vigilant. Scrutinize emails, texts, calls and social media posts that offer financial relief or promote the sale of cure-all products or limited-time special offers. Scam tactics can include masquerading as a delivery company such as UPS, claiming to offer advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and fake lending emails related to the interest rate drop. These messages often contain links to malicious sites that closely mirror the legitimate sites. Ensure that you hover over the link to validate the site before clicking.
  • Be cautious. Never disclose your online banking credentials or PINs. Scammers often claim to be from your financial institution calling about a fraudulent card charge. They will then ask you to confirm information like card number, PIN, online banking credentials, etc. Also, beware of those striking up long distance relationships online. Sweetheart scammers often fake an emergency that necessitates money. Victims then willingly act on the fraudster’s instructions to “help” through mobile deposit, external transfers and wires.

Know your resources for job loss
With mandatory and recommended closures of businesses and large numbers of people staying home, the crisis is bound to impact the income of workers and business owners. During this time, it’s important to understand what options are available from financial institutions, utility companies, and governments that may be offering new programs, special considerations, or grace periods.

The coronavirus relief bill, which was signed into law last week, significantly expands unemployment insurance for out-of-work Americans, including larger checks, a longer eligibility period, and an extension to previously ineligible workers.

Address investment concerns
Your investment strategy should match where you are in your retirement planning and for some, that may mean your portfolio will move to lower risk options as you near or enter retirement.This can help protect you from market fluctuations.

If your retirement is still a ways off, it’s likely best for you to take a long-term approach to financial planning and try not to fixate on the day-to-day valuations of your 401k or other assets. If you are feeling uneasy or want to ensure that your retirement plan is still on track with your goals, seek the guidance of a Financial Advisor with a reputable affiliation.

Engage the family
Children may sense your stress but not understand how your financial situation has been affected, causing them to feel uneasy. When appropriate, explain the need to cut back temporarily and discuss the news calmly and simply. Making time to discuss what changes you are anticipating and how everyone can contribute toward the family, including:

  • For older family members, sharing the responsibility for paying the bills or deciding which expenses to reduce.
  • Designating financial chores, such as having small children count out the penny jar and having older children sit alongside you to read through the utility bills.
  • Taking 20 minutes to ask each family member how they could contribute to the family next week via finances or chores.
  • Writing down everyone’s commitments and pop it up on the fridge or door; getting everyone involved may reduce stress and create a feeling of unity.

Strategies

People willing to pay more for coffee that’s ethical and eco-friendly, meta-analysis finds

Overall, ecolabelling worked as intended: people were willing to pay for socially responsible coffee.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao from Unsplash.com

Lesson for coffee biz…

Beyond how much cream and sugar to add to their morning brew, coffee lovers also face more serious decisions: one of those is whether or not to buy ecolabelled coffee, which advertises itself as more ethical and environmentally friendly. But whether customers are willing to pay the extra price for these perks remains an unanswered question.

In a study publishes in the journal Heliyon, researchers combined data from 22 studies to conclude that in general, people are willing to pay $1.36 more for a pound of coffee that’s produced in an eco-friendly way and are especially partial to coffee that’s labelled “Organic.”

“We hear in the media or sometimes read in the newspaper that there is an increasing number of ecolabelling logos in the market, and that these logos are sometimes related or even look alike. This may reduce consumers’ trust and willingness to pay over time,” says first author Nizam Abdu, a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the University of Tasmania in Australia. “However, our results show that coffee consumers in some selected countries are still willing to pay a positive and significant premium for ecolabelling.”

As many people’s go-to beverage, coffee’s enormous social, cultural, and economic influence makes it an ideal candidate for ecolabelling, a system that identifies and certifies certain products with ethical and environmental benefits. Common coffee ecolabels include Organic, Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), and Fairtrade (a certification that workers are given fair wages and safe working conditions) and aim to help consumers make informed choices on food safety, health, and environmental impact. However, it’s possible that having too many ecolabel options will instead confuse buyers, causing them to avoid buying ecolabelled coffee.

Many previous studies have tried to quantify the public’s opinion on different types of coffee ecolabelling. But the studies have varied dramatically in their estimates of how much consumers are willing to pay: some found that people are willing to pay more, while others suggest that people actually are less willing to pay for ecolabelling. As a result, it’s been challenging to present a standardized conclusion on the overall effectiveness of ecolabels.

Abdu and his co-author set out to address this gap. They combined data from 22 studies over the past fifteen years, forming an overall dataset of 97 observations across Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. With their meta-analysis, they wanted to understand what factors give rise to the large range of price estimates and determine once and for all whether consumers are willing to pay more for coffee ecolabelling.

The researchers found that the variation in previous studies came down to a few factors: the region or country under study, surveying methods, types of ecolabels, and publication bias, the tendency for only studies with the desired outcome to be published. For example, there was a noticeable effect on the studies’ results when survey participants made yes/no choices about which coffee they’d buy versus when they were given trade-offs and budget constraints.

After taking these things into account, however, they found that overall, ecolabelling worked as intended: people were willing to pay for socially responsible coffee.

“In general, consumers are happy to pay a premium price of $1.36 for a pound of ecolabelled coffee. In particular, we clearly see that Organic is the most crucial coffee attribute,” says Abdu. The specific ecolabels of Fairtrade, COOL, and Organic all had values significantly larger than zero, but Organic ecolabelling had the highest value of the three – people were willing to pay an additional $1.14 per pound of coffee for just the Organic ecolabel.

That said, consumer attitudes still varied depending on factors like location. For instance, compared to other regions, people were less willing to pay more for ecolabelled coffee in North America, which may suggest that preference for such a labelling system varies across the regions. The researchers were also surprised to find that while people did care where their coffee came from, they didn’t necessarily prefer coffee that was produced near them. “I was expecting consumers would prefer locally produced coffee,” he says.

The authors say, however, that their finding still suggests a clear preference among consumers for certain types of ecolabelling. Abdu says, “Our findings are a good indicator that the policy of coffee ecolabelling is working in the global coffee market.”

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Strategies

10 Security misperceptions that need to be addressed immediately

The list is based on the experience of Sophos Rapid Response, a team of expert incident responders who deliver fast assistance in identifying and neutralizing active threats such as malware infections, compromised data, or unauthorized access, among others.

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Photo by Mimi Thian from Unsplash.com

With June marking National ICT Month in the Philippines and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) adopting the CHIP (Connect, Harness, Innovate, and Protect) framework for digital transformation and underscoring the value of protection,  Sophos compiled   a guide for Filipino businesses so they can avoid  today’s most commonly held security misperceptions.

The list is based on the experience of Sophos Rapid Response, a team of expert incident responders who deliver fast assistance in identifying and neutralizing active threats such as malware infections, compromised data, or unauthorized access, among others.

Misperception 1: We are not a target. We are too small or have no assets of value to an adversary 

Sophos Advice: Many cyberattack victims assume they are too small, in a sector of no interest, or lacking the kind of lucrative assets that would attract an adversary. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. If you have the processing power and a digital presence, you are a target. Despite the media headlines, most attacks are not perpetrated by advanced nation-state attackers. They are launched by opportunists looking for easy prey and low-hanging fruit, such as organizations with security gaps, errors, or misconfigurations that cybercriminals can easily exploit. 

Misperception 2: We don’t need advanced security technologies installed everywhere 

Sophos Advice: Some IT teams still believe that endpoint security software is enough to stop all threats or don’t need security for their servers. Attackers take full advantage of such assumptions. Any mistakes in configuration, patching, or protection make servers a primary target, not a secondary one, as might have been the case in the past.

Based on the incidents that Sophos Rapid Response has investigated, servers are now the number one target for attacks. Attackers can easily find a direct route using stolen access credentials.  Suppose your organization relies only on basic security without more advanced and integrated tools such as behavioral and AI-based detection and a 24/7 human-led security operations center. In that case, intruders will likely find their way past your defenses.

Misperception 3: We have robust security policies in place 

Sophos Advice:  Having security policies for applications and users is critical. However, they need  to be checked and updated constantly as new features and functionality are added to devices connected to the network. Verify and test policies using techniques such as penetration testing, tabletop exercises, and trial runs of disaster recovery plans. 

Misperception 4: Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers can be protected from attackers by changing the ports they are on and introducing multi-factor authentication (MFA) 

Sophos Advice: The standard port used for RDP services is 3389, so most attackers will scan this port to find open remote access servers. However, the scanning will identify any available services, so changing ports offers little or no protection on its own. 

Further, while introducing multi-factor authentication is essential, it won’t enhance security unless all employees and devices enforce it. RDP activity should occur within the protective boundary of a virtual private network (VPN). Still, even that cannot fully protect an organization if the attackers already have a foothold in a network. Ideally, unless its use is essential, IT security should limit or disable RDP internally and externally.

Misperception 5: Blocking IP addresses from high-risk regions such as Russia, China, and North Korea protects us against attacks from those geographies 

Sophos Advice:  Blocking IPs from specific regions is unlikely to do any harm, but it could give a false sense of security if it’s the sole means of protection. Adversaries host their malicious infrastructure in many countries, with hotspots in the US, the Netherlands, and the rest of Europe. 

Misperception 6: Our backups provide immunity from the impact of ransomware 

Sophos Advice: Keeping up-to-date backups of documents is business-critical. However, if your backups are connected to the network, then they are within reach of attackers and vulnerable to being encrypted, deleted, or disabled in a ransomware attack. 

Storing backups in the cloud also needs to be done with care. The standard formula for secure backups to restore data and systems after a ransomware attack is 3:2:1. Three copies of everything, using two different systems, one of which is offline. 

Having offline backups in place won’t protect your information from extortion-based ransomware attacks, where the criminals steal and threaten to publish your data instead of or as well as encrypting it. 

Misperception 7: Our employees understand security 

Sophos Advice: According to the State of Ransomware 2021, 22% of organizations believe they’ll be hit by ransomware in the next 12 months because it’s hard to stop end users from compromising security. 

Social engineering tactics like phishing emails are becoming harder to spot. Messages are often hand-crafted, accurately written, persuasive, and carefully targeted. Your employees need to know how to spot suspicious messages and what to do when they receive one. Who do they notify so that other employees can be alerted? 

Misperception 8: Incident response teams can recover my data after a ransomware attack

Sophos Advice: This is very unlikely. Attackers today make far fewer mistakes, and the encryption process has improved, so relying on responders to find a loophole that can undo the damage is extremely rare. Automatic backups like Windows Volume Shadow Copies are also deleted by most modern ransomware and overwriting the original data stored on disk, making recovery impossible other than paying the ransom. 

Misperception 9: Paying the ransom will get our data back after a ransomware attack 

Sophos Advice: According to the State of Ransomware survey 2021, an organization that pays the ransom recovers on average around two-thirds (65%) of its data.  A mere 8% got back all of their data, and 29% recovered less than half. Paying the ransom even when it seems easier and covered by your cyber-insurance policy is therefore not a straightforward solution to getting your data back. 

Misperception 10: The release of ransomware is the whole attack – if we survive that we’re OK 

Sophos Advice: Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Ransomware is just the point where the attackers want you to realize they are there and what they have done. 

The adversaries are likely to have been in your network for days if not weeks before releasing the ransomware, exploring, disabling, or deleting backups, finding the machines with high-value information or applications to target for encryption, removing information, and installing additional payloads such as backdoors. Maintaining a presence in the victim’s networks allows attackers to launch a second attack if they want to. 

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Strategies

Use rewards effectively to boost employee creativity

The choice of rewards fostered creativity by raising the employees’ belief in their ability to be creative. Alternative rewards also had a powerful impact on boosting the creativity of employees who earlier had scored high on an assessment of creative personality characteristics.

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To boost employees’ creativity, managers should consider offering a set of rewards for them to choose from, according to a new study by management experts at Rice University, Tulane University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and National Taiwan Normal University.

The study, co-authored by Jing Zhou, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, is the first to systematically examine the effects of reward choice in a field experiment, which was conducted in the context of an organizationwide suggestion program. An advance copy of the paper is published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“Organizations spend a lot of resources and exert a great deal of effort in designing incentive schemes that reward the employees who exhibit creativity at work,” Zhou said. “Our results showed that the effort may be a bit misplaced. Instead of discovering one reward type that is particularly effective at promoting creativity, what is more effective is to provide the employees with the opportunity to choose from several reward types, if they submit one or more ideas that are among the top 20% most creative ones.”

Workers in the study were given a range of options: a financial reward for the individual employee or their team, a self-discretionary reward such as getting priority to select days off, or a donation the company made to a charity selected by the employee. Those choices had positive, significant effects on the number of creative ideas employees generated and the creativity level of those ideas, Zhou and her co-authors found.

The researchers arrived at their findings by conducting a quasi-experiment at a company in Taiwan over the course of several months. Then they conducted a second experimental study that included employees from 12 organizations in Taiwan to replicate the first study’s results and compared the results with a control group.

The studies also found that rewards aimed at helping others, such as making a donation to a charity, might be especially powerful. But for less-creative employees, alternative rewards that benefit those in need might actually lower creativity and should be avoided, the authors said.

The researchers also found that the choice of rewards fostered creativity by raising the employees’ belief in their ability to be creative. Alternative rewards also had a powerful impact on boosting the creativity of employees who earlier had scored high on an assessment of creative personality characteristics.

Zhou co-authored the paper with Greg Oldham of Tulane, Aichia Chuang of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Ryan Shuwei Hsu of National Taiwan Normal University.

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