With the COVID-19 health crisis evolving so quickly, it’s hard to predict the extent of the long-term impact on business and the economy. While every business sector is facing different considerations, it’s safe to say all are handling challenges from supply chain interruptions, rapid shifts to remote work, and massive changes in consumer spending and communication habits.  

As social distancing and quarantining have taken effect, the world has turned to digital and virtual resources as a way to stay productive, informed, connected, entertained, and supplied with goods and services. This has led to:

  • A higher reliance on ecommerce & mobile commerce
  • More time spent on social media
  • An increase in time spent on online gaming
  • Greater use of cashless payments

A prime example of these shifts includes a sharp rise in pantry prep as people stockpile household and shelf-stable food essentials, with some categories rising by as much as 84% in the past three months aloneSafety supplies and health care online purchases for items like cold, cough, and flu have increased by 198%, and pain relievers have increased by 152%.  

These increases directly coincide with an increase in the use of grocery store app downloads as consumers turn to mobile commerce and e-commerce instead of having to physically visit stores. 

People looking to stay connected and looking for a distraction from current events are going online to do it. Steam.com reported over 22 million active users on March 22, the highest number ever recorded by the company. Verizon reported they had an unprecedented 75% surge in gaming traffic in just one week during peak hours in North America. Social networking is also on the rise as brands use online platforms to foster community and brand loyalty by launching creative promotions and virtual events. 

Covid-19 is also changing how people shop. Concerned about the possibility of exposure to the virus, people are utilizing online shopping and e-commerce in lieu of visiting physical venues. A recent poll conducted by Coresight Research found that 47.2% of US internet users are avoiding shopping centers and malls altogether, and 74.6% of respondents indicate they will avoid these physical locations should Covid-19 continue to spread. 

Unfortunately, there are bad actors who are eager to take advantage of this uncertainty and period of rapid change. Brands must be prepared for the exploitation of a crisis like this with a heightened level of vigilance for abuse of copyrights, trademarks, and intellectual property.

Bad actors are creative in exploiting disasters in order to trick unsuspecting consumers into engaging in dangerous online behavior - often associating brands with these attacks. As of three weeks ago, according to CheckPoint Computer Software, 4,000 coronavirus themed domains had been registered in 2020, and of those domains, 3% were flagged as malicious and 5% as suspicious. Coronavirus domains are 50% more likely to infect systems with malware. 

Our own research indicates a profound acceleration of the registration of COVID-19 related domain names. As of Thursday, March 26, 2020, we have found over 22,000 domains registered in 2020 that contained the strings COVID, COVID-19 or Coronavirus, and Palo Alto Networks, using much broader sets of terms has estimated over 100,000 domains have been registered.

Brands can keep their consumers safe in these uncertain times by keeping them educated and updated. Studies indicate that heightened emotional states make it easier for scammers to take advantage of individuals as the individual’s ability to respond appropriately to misleading information is often impaired. Brands should encourage consumers to engage with them on verified platforms and sites and alert consumers and employees to common fraud tactics, including business email compromise (BEC), phishing emails, fake social media accounts, websites, and ads.

Without a doubt, these shifts in how we conduct both our business and personal lives will be in place for the foreseeable future. Whether or not these changes will be permanent remains to be seen. Regardless, brands must be prepared for the likelihood that many of these changes may eventually become the new normal, and taking action now can help ensure consumer safety and brand security.

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