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The Evolution of Smartphones During a Global Pandemic

To combat the spread of COVID-19, companies worldwide shifted, or are shifting, to 100 percent telework, a challenging effort for organizations without the infrastructure to support extended remote work. However, as employees navigate this “new normal”, smartphones have quickly filled the void of social interaction.

In a Washington Post article, reporter Travis Andrew noticed increased smartphone usage as weekly screen time reports took over internet feeds. One doctor based in Houston, Texas tweeted his screen time report showing a 185 percent increase in screen time from the week before1.  

An image of a tweet showing increased smartphone usage.

Popular video conferencing smartphone applications enable employees to continue working and stay connected with family and friends during social distancing. One survey reported a 37 percent increase in texting and a 32 percent increase in video calling2. Facebook alone reported a 70 percent weekly increase in group calls through the Facebook Messenger app3. A New York Times analysis of internet usage confirmed that a societal desire for social interaction led to increased usage of traditional social media sites as well as other resources for video calling, such as Google Duo and Houseparty.

Charts showing increases in videoconferencing applications since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Other apps such as Zoom, Google Classroom, and Microsoft Teams have also increased in popularity as a method to stay connected in the work place4. The flexibility granted by smartphone apps make these resources particularly effective for managing work and home responsibilities.

Charts showing increases in remote work applications since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Many believe videoconferencing will become the new “normal way to communicate” as its effectiveness will make it a “residual component” after COVID-193.

Smartphones don’t just help us stay connected; they can also help keep us safe. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized social distancing as the best protection from infection5. Mobile payments and online shopping increased in tandem with social distancing measures. According to Forbes, overall usage of contactless payments has increased 150 percent in the United States since March 20196. Furthermore, the payment processor, Marqeta, saw a “ten-fold increase” in contactless payments through apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay.  Marqeta also reported increased use of mobile food ordering services, with usage increasing 30 percent in the first week of shutdowns and 82 percent the following week3.

To further reduce public risk, mobile device manufacturers also rolled out functions for public health agencies to implement COVID-19 contact tracing apps. These apps are “designed to notify individuals of potential exposure to others with confirmed cases of COVID-19”7.

With the increased reliance on smartphones, we must ensure the safety of our cyber space. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) maintains telework best practices and cybersecurity tips at www.cisa.gov/telework8 such as only connecting to secured networks, always log-off remote connections at the end of the work day, and use work computers for work activities and personal computers for personal activities. CISA provides the public with access to their telework best practices guide9, and tips on staying safe during COVID-1910. For more about online security tips, please visit CISA’s STOP.THINK.CONNECT.

During a global pandemic with increased telework and decreased social interaction, smartphone usage has adapted. They create a sense of normalcy and security, while helping us stay connected. However, smartphones owners must stay vigilant about their personal safety and the health of others by acting with an abundance of caution in their physical, and cyber, lifestyle.

References

  1. Travis Andrew, “Our iPhone weekly screen time reports are through the roof, and people are ‘horrified’,” The Washington Post, March 24, 2020, June 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/24/screen-time-iphone-coronavirus-quarantine-covid/.
  2. Twigby, “U.S. Study Finds CoVID-19 Pandemic Transforms Cell Phone Usage,” PR Newswire, May 28, 2020, July 2, 2020, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-study-finds-covid-19-pandemic-transforms-cell-phone-usage-301066502.html.
  3. Martha DeGrasse, “4 ways COVID-19 is changing mobile phone usage,” Fierce Wireless, April 8, 2020, June, 19, 2020, https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/three-ways-covid-19-changing-mobile-phone-usage.
  4. Ella Koeze and Nathaniel Popper, “The Virus Changed the Way We Internet,” The New York Times, April 7, 2020, July 2, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/07/technology/coronavirus-internet-use.html.
  5. “Get the Facts About Coronavirus.” Coronavirus (COVID-19). Center for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2020. Web. July 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.
  6. Stephanie Walden, “Banking After COVID-19: The Rise of Contactless Payments in the U.S.,” Forbes. June 12, 2020. Web. July 2, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/banking/banking-after-covid-19-the-rise-of-contactless-payments-in-the-u-s/.
  7. Darrell Etherington, “Apple and Google launch exposure notification API, enabling public health authorities to release apps,” TechCrunch. May 20, 2020. Web. July 2, 2020, https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/20/apple-and-google-launch-exposure-notification-api-enabling-public-health-authorities-to-release-apps/?guccounter=1.
  8. “Telework Guidance and Resources,” Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. April 24, 2020. Web. July 2, 2020, https://www.cisa.gov/telework.
  9. “Telework Best Practices,” Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Web. July 2, 2020, https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Telework_Guide_with_NSA_and_DHS_CISA.pdf.
  10. “Coronavirus,” Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. June 17, 2020. Web. July 2, 2020, https://www.cisa.gov/coronavirus.

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