Microsoft Launches a Real-Time Coronavirus Tracker
The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly the most talked about news event at the moment, and it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. The novel coronavirus has already cost the lives of thousands of people, and in many parts of the civilized world, it's still spreading like wildfire. People are understandably worried, and they want as much information about the virus as they can get. Organizations of all shapes and sizes are trying to meet this demand, and Microsoft is no exception.
Yesterday, the tech giant launched an interactive map that helps people track the spread of the new COVID-19 virus. It's powered by Microsoft's Bing search engine, and it organizes up-to-date data provided by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). By default, users see a sidebar that contains worldwide statistics on the confirmed cases, the recovered cases, and the death toll. Below it, Microsoft has put the list of the most heavily affected countries, and users can also click on the map to get detailed figures on the region they're interested in. In addition to this, the interactive map will also produce a list of news stories covering the spreading of the disease in the country they've selected.
This is not the first COVID-19 map
Microsoft wasn't the first organization to realize that there was a need for such a map.
After the outbreak picked up speed and the virus popped up in countries outside China, Johns Hopkins University created a similar tracker that has been online for the last few weeks. The map works in more or less the same way, and although Johns Hopkins' tracker also feeds data from a couple of Chinese healthcare organizations, the figures are pretty much identical.
There could be some debate around the benefits of such maps. On the one hand, they can give you a good idea of how the pandemic is evolving and how it's affecting the rest of the world. There is another major advantage. The internet has been flooded with fake news surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, and having a reputable source that gives trustworthy information is more important than ever. The trackers Microsoft and Johns Hopkins developed fill this role rather well.
At the same time, however, they are not painting a pretty picture. People are quite scared of the pandemic, and an interactive map that shows an ever-increasing number of fatalities is unlikely to put their minds at ease. Of course, you can always argue that these figures help people understand how big the threat is, but at the same time, you mustn't ignore the fact that they are doing nothing to alleviate the sense of panic that has taken over some of us. Speaking of panic, we should probably point out that cybercriminals are also trying to take advantage of the global sense of unrest.
Malware creators can take advantage of the interactive maps
Earlier this month, security researchers from Reason Cyber Security stumbled upon an executable file named Corona-virus-Map.com.exe, and when they opened it, they saw a carbon copy of the interactive map created by Johns Hopkins University. In the background, however, the file installed and launched a password-stealing trojan by the name of AZORult. Later, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs found out that cybercriminals were trading the weaponized map on the underground forums, which suggests that it might appear in future campaigns as well.
It's impossible to say whether the hackers will put Microsoft's tracker through the same treatment. We, for one, however, wouldn't bet against it.