Media releases

  • Brock gearing up to contribute to COVID-19 response

    MEDIA RELEASE: 27 March 2020 – R0054

    Brock University’s research community is stepping up to contribute supplies, facilities and expertise to Canada’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Brock has made available supplies of gloves, masks and chemicals to Niagara Public Health, and researchers are also discussing ways to use the University’s Level 3 containment laboratory (CL3).

    The Canadian government has already approved Brock’s CL3 lab to be used for COVID-19 research.

    “We’re taking a range of steps to prepare for requests that might emerge for research and testing,” says Vice-President Research, Tim Kenyon. “We have a wide variety of expertise and facilities here that can be deployed in the greater fight against this virus.”

    Brock’s Office of Research Services has put out a call for researchers to submit research proposals in response to the provincial government’s COVID-19 portal, which was posted Thursday, March 26.

    Regarding the CL3 facility, Biological Safety Levels in a lab are ranked from one to four depending on the potential threat of organisms or agents being studied. The labs have increasing protection levels.

    Level 3 enables Professor of Biology Fiona Hunter to study the Zika and West Nile viruses, but she and her students are willing to put those studies on hold temporarily should the facility be required for research on the COVID-19-causing virus, called SARS-CoV-2.

    Brock also has several Level 2 laboratories that can potentially support a scale-up of COVID-19 testing if demand from Public Health rises. Immunologist and Associate Professor of Health Sciences Adam MacNeil says his lab has the equipment to do this, but needs critical testing materials that are in high-demand globally.

    A potential local source has emerged in Norgen Biotek, a company that is working with the University on producing COVID-19 test kits.

    “Members of my team would be happy to help at locations outside of Brock as much as here at Brock,” says MacNeil. “They have critical skills that are useful right now, and that realization – within the developing crisis — has empowered them.”

    “As well, we are pursuing institutional steps to secure the appropriate license modifications permitting work with SARS-CoV-2, and to modify and upgrade the facilities themselves as needed,” says Kenyon.

    Beyond the biological laboratories is a pool of expertise that can address a wide variety of facets of the unfolding pandemic, including financial data analysis, risk management and children’s mental health.

    Kenyon continues to receive expressions of interest from across the research community at Brock in response to the pandemic.

    “We continue to explore ways to support innovative research projects that can help in the fight against this pandemic,” he says.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University, or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases

  • Digital vigilance critical as more employees work from home, says Brock expert

    MEDIA RELEASE: 26 March 2020 – R0053

    With work routines changing and far more people working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, computer users need to be vigilant to protect our digital infrastructure, advises a Brock University professor.

    “We will be increasingly subject to a range of cybersecurity threats as our attention is placed on fighting COVID-19,” says Aaron Mauro, Assistant Professor in Brock’s Centre for Digital Humanities. “We’re seeing tremendous sums of money being spent by governments, which will be a target for hackers interested in using ransomware attacks, for example.”

    Ransomware attackers use phishing scams to access an organization’s computer system and to install software that locks legitimate users out of the system by encrypting files. The attackers then demand financial payment to restore access.

    The U.K.’s National Health Service was a notable victim of a ransomware attack in May 2017, locking staff out of 200,000 computers. The attack and its aftermath are estimated to have cost the Health Service more than $120 million.

    In more recent months, ransomware attacks have targeted municipalities in Johannesburg, Baltimore, Albany and Atlanta.

    Mauro worries hospitals and other critical infrastructure may be targeted by cyber attacks during the peak pandemic crisis, when government and public health officials are already exhausted.

    “A targeted email sent to several high-level hospital or public health officials has the potential to grant high level access to computer systems and potentially cripple some portion of the digital infrastructure that supports our healthcare system,” he says.

    Mauro advises everyone to be extra cautious.

    “Check the sender’s email carefully,” he says. “They may look legitimate and even differ by only a few characters. If you are sent a link or a suspicious file, avoid opening it if at all possible.”

    Users should never enter their login credentials in an unfamiliar site and should use second-factor authentication when available. If asked to login to a site, users should navigate to the site themselves, rather than follow a potentially suspicious link in an email.

    “We all need to think like a cybersecurity professional to avoid compromising our sensitive digital infrastructure that we will depend upon in the coming months,” says Mauro.

    Aaron Mauro, Assistant Professor in Brock’s Centre for Digital Humanities is available to the media for phone and Skype/Facetime interviews.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews: 

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University, 905-347-1970 

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    Categories: Media releases