‘Click for urgent coronavirus update’: how working from home may be exposing us to cybercrime


Craig Valli, Edith Cowan University

Apart from the obvious health and economic impacts, the coronavirus also presents a major opportunity for cybercriminals.

As staff across sectors and university students shift to working and studying from home, large organisations are at increased risk of being targeted. With defences down, companies should go the extra mile to protect their business networks and employees at such a precarious time.

Reports suggest hackers are already exploiting remote workers, luring them into online scams masquerading as important information related to the pandemic.

On Friday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch reported that since January 1 it had received 94 reports of coronavirus-related scams, and this figure could rise.

As COVID-19 causes a spike in telework, teleheath and online education, cybercriminals have fewer hurdles to jump in gaining access to networks.

High-speed access theft

The National Broadband Network’s infrastructure has afforded many Australians access to higher-speed internet, compared with DSL connections. Unfortunately this also gives cybercriminals high-speed access to Australian homes, letting them rapidly extract personal and financial details from victims.

The shift to working from home means many people are using home computers, instead of more secure corporate-supplied devices. This provides criminals relatively easy access to corporate documents, trade secrets and financial information.




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Instead of attacking a corporation’s network, which would likely be secured with advanced cybersecurity countermeasures and tracking, they now simply have to locate and attack the employee’s home network. This means less chance of discovery.

Beware cryptolocker attacks

Cryptolocker-based attacks are an advanced cyberattack that can bypass many traditional countermeasures, including antivirus software. This is because they’re designed and built by advanced cybercriminals.

Most infections from a cryptolocker virus happen when people open unknown attachments, sent in malicious emails.

In some cases, the attack can be traced to nation state actors. One example is the infamous WannaCry cyberattack, which deployed malware (software designed to cause harm) that encrypted computers in more than 150 countries. The hackers, supposedly from North Korea, demanded cryptocurrency in exchange for unlocking them.

If an employee working from home accidentally activates cryptolocker malware while browsing the internet or reading an email, this could first take out the home network, then spread to the corporate network, and to other attached home networks.

This can happen if their device is connected to the workplace network via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This makes the home device an extension of the corporate network, and the virus can bypass any advanced barriers the corporate network may have.




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If devices are attached to a network that has been infected and not completely cleaned, the contaminant can rapidly spread again and again. In fact, a single device that isn’t cleaned properly can cause millions of dollars in damage. This happened during the 2016 Petya and NotPetya malware attack.

Encryption: not a cryptic concept

On the bright side, there are some steps organisations and employees can take to protect their digital assets from opportunistic criminal activity.

Encryption is a key weapon in this fight. This security method protects files and network communications by methodically “scrambling” the contents using an algorithm. The receiving party is given a key to unscramble, or “decrypt”, the information.

With remote work booming, encryption should be enabled for files on hard drives and USB sticks that contain sensitive information.

Enabling encryption on a Windows or Apple device is also simple. And don’t forget to backup your encryption keys when prompted onto a USB drive, and store them in a safe place such as a locked cabinet, or off site.

VPNs help close the loop

A VPN should be used at all times when connected to WiFi, even at home. This tool helps mask your online activity and location, by routing outgoing and incoming data through a secure “virtual tunnel” between your computer and the VPN server.

Existing WiFi access protocols (WEP, WPA, WPA2) are insecure when being used to transmit sensitive data. Without a VPN, cybercriminals can more easily intercept and retrieve data.

VPN is already functional in Windows and Apple devices. Most reputable antivirus internet protection suites incorporate them.

It’s also important that businesses and organisations encourage remote employees to use the best malware and antiviral protections on their home systems, even if this comes at the organisation’s expense.

Backup, backup, backup

People often backup their files on a home computer, personal phone or tablet. There is significant risk in doing this with corporate documents and sensitive digital files.

When working from home, sensitive material can be stored in a location unknown to the organisation. This could be a cloud location (such as iCloud, Google Cloud, or Dropbox), or via backup software the user owns or uses. Files stored in these locations may not protected under Australian laws.




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Businesses choosing to save files on the cloud, on an external hard drive or on a home computer need to identify backup regimes that fit the risk profile of their business. Essentially, if you don’t allow files to be saved on a computer’s hard drive at work, and use the cloud exclusively, the same level of protection should apply when working from home.

Appropriate backups must observed by all remote workers, along with standard cybersecurity measures such as firewall, encryption, VPN and antivirus software. Only then can we rely on some level of protection at a time when cybercriminals are desperate to profit.The Conversation

Craig Valli, Director of ECU Security Research Institute, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Working from home: what are your employer’s responsibilities, and what are yours?



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Robin Price, CQUniversity Australia and Linda Colley, CQUniversity Australia

So you’ve been asked to work from home.

Doing so usually requires changing aspects of your relationship with your employer. What it doesn’t change is that your relationship is based on mutual obligations. These remain exactly the same even though you work at home.




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Your employer’s duties, under both industrial relations and work health and safety laws, are to ensure you are able to work safely at home, and to cover reasonable expenses. Your obligation is to work if you want to be paid.

A safe workspace

In Australia, an employer has a legal duty of care for the health and safety of workers “so far as is reasonably practicable”. This duty is contained under the uniform work health and safety legislation of states and territories – see, for example, the Queensland legislation.

That duty of care extends to anywhere work is performed. If you are asked to work from home, your employer is responsible to ensure this does not pose a risk to your health and safety.




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Some organisations conduct formal inspections of homes before approving working-from-home arrangements. That may not be practical in current circumstances.

The next best option might be a virtual tour using virtual meeting software such as Google hangouts or Zoom. At a minimum, your employer should provide you with a health and safety checklist, specifying considerations such as:

  • a safe work space free from trip hazards (such as rugs and cables)
  • a broadly safe environment including an exit, smoke alarms and a first aid kit
  • appropriate lighting and ventilation
  • ergonomic requirements such as a desk large enough for tasks, phone and mouse within reach
  • a chair that adjusts to ensure your feet are flat on the floor
  • a computer screen positioned for your eyes to meet the top of the screen

Reimbursing expenses

Your employer’s primary responsibility under industrial relations law is to pay you for the work you do under applicable awards, enterprise agreements and contracts.

Your employer is also responsible for providing you with the appropriate resources for work to be carried out. These might include a computer with systems to access and protect work files, a headset, a webcam and virtual meeting software.




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There is an implied obligation also to reimburse you for expenses incurred while working at home, such as extra electricity or internet access.

This obligation may be spelled out in an enterprise agreement or a working-from-home policy, but not all organisations have codified entitlements. You may need to establish with your employer what costs will be reimbursed, what limits apply, and what approvals are required.

If your employer does not reimburse you for running costs – because the paperwork is arduous and the amount usually small – remember you can also claim work-related expenses, including the cost of a dedicated work area, as tax deductions. Claimable expenses are set out on the Australian Taxation Office’s website.

Employee responsibilities

In allowing you to work from home, your employer is demonstrating a degree of trust that past generations of managers would have found unacceptable. Your obligation is to do the right thing even without direct supervision, observing the same practices as normally expected by your employer.

All your usual employee responsibilities from the workplace continue to apply, such as obeying lawful directions and working to the best of your ability.

Much has been written on how best to work at home. There are some common themes. Get dressed for work, so that you feel “at work” and behave accordingly. Maintain a separate work space, so there is a clear delineation between work and leisure. Ensure you take breaks to maintain your health and well-being.




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Another aspect of well-being you will need to pay conscious attention to is minimising the psychological stress of isolation.

Working from home can be isolating in the best of times, and in the current situation this is arguably also an aspect of your employer’s duty of care. But this is something that cannot be easily codified and will require goodwill and negotiation. You and your employer may need to consider new routines for communication to ensure working at home is about physical distancing and social solidarity, not social isolation.The Conversation

Robin Price, Lecturer in Employment Relations and Human Resource Management, CQUniversity Australia and Linda Colley, Associate Professor HRM/IR, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

My child is staying home from school because of coronavirus. Is that illegal?



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John O’Brien, Queensland University of Technology

In a recent press conference on the COVID-19 situation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australia schools would remain open for the foreseeable future. He said:

The health advice here, supported by all the Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and my Government is that schools should remain open […] I am asking all other parents around the country […] There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

But many parents are keeping their children home. Some are doing this in an effort to “flatten the curve”, and others may be worried for the health of their child or elderly relatives.

Attendance in schools across Australia has fallen, by as much as 50% in some. Considering parents are going against the directive of governments, are they breaking the law by taking their kids out of school to study at home?

On the face of it, the answer is yes. But it’s not black and white, and the likelihood of criminal proceedings is traditionally very low. Fining parents has always been considered a last resort, and that would seem unlikely to change in a time like now.

But the law is the law, and is there for a specific social purpose – it is never advisable to willingly and persistently ignore it.

What does the law say?

School education is governed by state and territory laws that mandate compulsory education. Parents are legally obliged to ensure their child attends school (or other educational options such as homeschooling) every school day, unless the parent has a reasonable excuse.

The maximum fine that can be issued to a parent varies considerably across jurisdictions. If a parent was to face court (normally this would be for persistent non-attendance), the fine in Queensland can be up to A$800, whereas in New South Wales, it could be $2,750.




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But again, prosecuting parents will not usually be the first response, and these figures are the maximum a court may impose. Many states either suggest or require warnings, notices, meetings or conferences before a case can be recommended for prosecution.

Is COVID-19 a ‘reasonable excuse’?

Most jurisdictions provide for a reasonable excuse to be given, and then often provide a few examples of what this might cover. If a child is actually sick, this would often be listed as an acceptable reason for their absence.

Similarly, six of the jurisdictions (ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, Tas, WA) specifically mention a defence where the child is required to stay home due to a public health direction. The current direction of governments is for healthy children to go to school. But this defence could cover a situation where a family member is confirmed to have COVID-19, or the child has recently returned from overseas, and therefore needs to self-quarantine for 14 days.

South Australia has a new Act which could allow a parent to keep a healthy child at home to prevent the risk of the child catching a disease; however this law has not yet begun to operate.

Without there being any specific and obvious defence for parents, it would come down to whether removing a child from school due to the threat of COVID-19 is considered a “reasonable” excuse.

Who decides?

In a worst-case scenario, it would be a court that would ultimately decide this question. But there are a range of decision-makers involved in school non-attendance cases who precede a court, including school principals.

Parents could apply for an exemption to their obligations in advance of their child’s absence. Decision-makers for exemptions vary between jurisdictions, and sometimes even within a jurisdiction depending on whether the child is at a state or non-state school.

Powers might be vested in the relevant minister (NSW, SA, Tas, Vic, WA), a departmental CEO/director-general or their delegate (ACT, NT, Qld State Schools), or a school principal (Qld non-state schools).

A factor that might make it more reasonable for the child to be exempted could be if there are other household members who fit into high-risk categories (for example, someone who is immuno-compromised). Also relevant might be what provision has been made for the child once the parent removes them – will the child be doing schoolwork, or playing video-games unsupervised all day?




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The prime minister said anything we do we would need to do for six months. This situation isn’t likely to resolve itself anytime soon, and it’s uncertain whether government advice will change with regard to schools.

For now, technically, keeping healthy children at home can be considered illegal. But the likelihood of criminal proceedings is low, and a government decision to prosecute parents would, I imagine, be publicly unpalatable.The Conversation

John O’Brien, Associate Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Schools are open during the coronavirus outbreak but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can? We asked 5 experts



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Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

Editor’s note: This article is based on the coronavirus situation in Australia as of March 19. The situation may change over time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said government schools across Australia will remain open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. He added that:

as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

However, many parents are already voluntarily keeping their children home in an effort to “flatten the curve” – or are considering doing so.

We asked five experts to answer the question: schools are staying open but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can?

Four of the five experts said no

Sign up to The ConversationThe Conversation

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Get dressed and set goals: some routines not to break if coronavirus means you have to work from home



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Paula Brough, Griffith University

The precautions taken by some employers over the coronavirus mean you may find yourself working from home, some for the first time.

For example, Telstra says it wants any Australian-based office staff who can work from home to do so until the end of the month “at a minimum”. Many other employers are encouraging their staff to do the same.

You might feel this is a chance to stay in pyjamas all day, graze your way through the kitchen cupboards, and balance work tasks with online shopping and social media entries.




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But that won’t help the work get done, and it won’t do much for your sense of well-being. So here are some useful strategies to help if you want to be productive and still feel connected to your workplace over what might be a long working-from-home period.

Work as normal

First prepare yourself for a normal working day. Get up as normal, shower, dress for a casual work day, brush your hair, look as normally presentable as you usually do.

This will put you in your normal work mindset. It will also help if you’re suddenly included in a work meeting via Skype, Zoom, Facetime or Google Hangouts.

Next the physical environment. If you can, have a dedicated work space in a quiet room. It’s really preferable not to work in bed or in your bedroom.

Try to set a desk at home as you would at work.
Flickr/Nenad Stojkovic, CC BY

Set up some desk space similar to your office space at work, aiming to replicate your real work space will also help you achieve that work mindset. Plus you want a neutral background behind you for that work video call.

Use software and apps to help you stay connected, such as Slack, Jabber or other similar tools.

Your household data usage will likely increase as you become home-bound. Boost your Wi-fi facilities if you need to – refer to the support offered by your telecom company or internet provider. Some are already offering free upgrades to customers.

Have a plan

Book in daily work meetings via video hook-ups to stay connected and plan work tasks (now you’ll be glad you got out of your PJs!).

You’ll likely still have as much work to do, so plan for a full work day and prioritise your tasks as usual. Make sure you know what is expected of you. Discuss your work tasks with your supervisor as you normally would, it’s important both you and they are clear about your daily work tasks and due dates.

If part of a team, then make sure you know what each member is working on and when their work is due, and follow this up by calls and emails. As always, tell your supervisor of any problems you experience with completing your work.

And remember it’s preferable to discuss any problems via a phone or video call, rather than multiple emails, to better clarify the issues involved.




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It’s also important to look after your psychological health, during what could become long periods of isolation. Your may feel a bit overwhelmed by the directive to work from home, and also anxious about the broader coronavirus situation.

Social contact is very important. If you’re used to having lunch or coffee with colleagues, plan a quick social phone or video call to each other at lunchtime or after you have finished a few hours of work. It’s really important to stay connected with your colleagues as usual and to make sure all feel supported.

Get some fresh air. If you can, have a daily walk to your local shop, or at least get outside in your garden or balcony. Hang out some washing, walk the dog, water a plant, pick some fresh veggies, just take a break from your desk and move around.

Call family, friends and colleagues to see how they’re doing. Stay socially connected.

Use video technology to stay socially connected with your work colleagues.
Shutterstock/RossHelen

That work/life balance

It’s also important to think through your work-home boundaries. We’ve become used to blurring these boundaries a little, which is often beneficial, helping us to manage our multiple demands.

But when your home and work are located in the same place, the boundary setting needs some consideration.




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Be aware of home demands interfering with your work. Don’t procrastinate work tasks by first doing some housework. Set yourself a target to complete a work task and when you’ve finished it then spend ten minutes doing the tidying.

Equally, don’t let work take over your home life – just because work is always there doesn’t mean you have to be. Finish about the time you normally would.

Walk away from your desk. Engage with your family and friends. A period of psychological recovery from work is vital to make sure you feel rested and productive for working from home tomorrow.The Conversation

Paula Brough, Professor and Director, Social & Organisational Psychology Research Unit, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Working at home to avoid coronavirus? This tech lets you (almost) replicate the office




Geoffrey Mann, RMIT University

Working from home is already so common it has its own acronym, and it’s about to get even more common still. Companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are now advising employees to “WFH” to avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus.

But working from home can be a real challenge for employees who find themselves doing it for the first time. To address this concern, many employees are turning to digital solutions to help them interact with colleagues and stay productive away from the office.

Here are some tech options for three styles of work: formal meetings, informal discussions, and team projects. But none of them, as we shall see, is without drawbacks.




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Formal meetings

The first question on most people’s minds is how to conduct meetings with colleagues or clients. One of the most common answers is Zoom, a video communication platform that combines conferencing, online meetings, chat and mobile collaboration.

Zoom is widely used as an online substitute for formal meetings, and last week its share price surged by 12% in anticipation that cornavirus quarantines will see it adopted even more widely. Among the platform’s selling-points are its ease of use, and ability to stream presentations as well as host meetings.

But while digital solutions like Zoom offer useful way for colleagues to meet, they are arguably less satisfactory for interacting with customers. Research suggests that online meetings fail to deliver the same feelings of connection and empathy, compared with a face-to-face meeting.

Informal discussions

While video conferencing is useful for formal meetings, it is less appropriate for informal chats, brief queries or rapid status updates, such as “have you sent that invoice yet?”. This task is more suited to instant messaging platforms or group chat apps.

A common tactic is to use Facebook messenger, WhatsApp or gchat. But these can be distracting and intrusive, particularly at high volumes, causing workers to lose focus and concentration.

Many companies have instead adopted Slack and Microsoft Teams, which offer instant communication without the distraction of social media. IBM has reportedly adopted Slack for all of its 350,000 employees. And Slack has reportedly asked its own employees to work from home in response to the coronavirus outbreak, prompting wisecracks on social media about how they will stay in touch with one another.

But while these channels are great for zapping quick messages between team members, it can be hard to build real rapport. Research shows that being authentic, realistic and making time with colleagues is a more natural way to build effective work relationships, and this is hard to do purely online.

Team projects

So much for meetings and chats – what about actual project management? Two options already in widespread use are Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive, which allow people to upload documents to the cloud and collaborate on them in real time.

These two platforms have already become the industry standard for sharing documents. But (and you may be sensing a theme here), sometimes team discussions require face-to-face conversations or brainstorms, which can challenging to replicate in a purely online environment.




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There’s no doubt that the coronavirus has struck at a time when we have more digital options than ever before, giving a wider range of employees the opportunity to work from home with minimal disruption.

But it’s also undeniable that people still need face-to-face interactions for companies to function at their best. The likes of Zoom, Slack and Google Drive will likely see an uptick in use during the epidemic, but once it’s over they should be considered complementary solutions rather than substitutions.The Conversation

Geoffrey Mann, Sessional Lecturer, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s hard to breathe and you can’t think clearly – if you defend your home against a bushfire, be mentally prepared


Danielle Every, CQUniversity Australia and Mel Taylor, Macquarie University

If you live in a bushfire-prone area, you’ll likely have considered what you will do in the event of a bushfire.

The decision, which should be made well in advance of bushfire season, is whether to stay and actively defend a well-prepared property or to leave the area while it’s safe to do so.

The emphasis in bushfire safety is on leaving early. This is the safest option.

In “catastrophic” fire conditions, the message from NSW Rural Fire Service is that for your survival, leaving early is the only option.




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In other fire conditions, staying and defending requires accurately assessing the safety of your house and the surrounding environment, preparing your property in line with current best practice and understanding fire conditions.

It also requires a realistic assessment of not just your personal physical capacity to stay and defend but also your psychological capacity.

Why do people stay and defend?

Our survey of people who experienced the 2017 NSW bushfires asked what they would do next summer if there were catastrophic conditions. Some 27% would get ready to stay and defend, and 24% said they would wait to see if there was a fire before deciding whether to stay and defend or leave.

Animal ownership, a lack of insurance, and valuable assets such as agricultural sheds and equipment, are motivators for decisions to stay and defend.




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If animal owners aren’t home they will often return to their properties when bushfire warnings are issued, contrary to official advice, to retrieve or protect their animals and physical assets.

Although these decisions are understandable they can also lead people who aren’t physically or psychologically suited to staying and defending to do so.

What if you’re not psychologically up to it?

The reality is that a bushfire is a threatening, high-risk situation. It’s hard to see, hard to breathe, noisy and hot.

These conditions can overwhelm our ability to think clearly and act calmly. People in the Sampson Flat Fire in South Australia in 2015, for example, experienced high levels of stress which caused them to:

  • change their plan at the last minute, including leaving late which is the most dangerous response to a fire
  • drive unsafely, especially speeding
  • forget to take important items (such as medication)
  • leave their animals behind
  • engage in unrelated tasks that took up precious time
  • ignore the threat (by going to sleep, for example).

This is one person’s account of how they responded as the fire approached:

[I] grabbed my son […] saw the smoke and […] went and got the boxes that I’d prepared which I packed when he was a baby. So I had stupid things in the boxes, like baby outfits. But I can’t freak him out […]

[I]n the back of my mind I’m thinking about what do I need to do […] I’ve quarter a tank of diesel, I’d better go get diesel. I also had a back seat full of books that I’d been tidying up [from] his room, so I thought op shop, better do that because I’ll clear the back seat. […]

Came in the house like a mad woman screaming for cats, nowhere in sight. I’ve got four cats and not one of them [is there]. Grabbed a bag and then started putting stupid amounts of clothes in like 20 pair of socks, and then basically I threw the dog in the car. […] So flat panic.




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What’s going on with our thinking?

The spectrum of actions from frenzy and flight to freezing reflects the model of “affective tolerance”. When stress exceeds what we can tolerate, we can become hyper-aroused and may have racing thoughts and act impulsively.

Or we may experience hypo-arousal, where we shut down and feel numb and passive.

Our brains consist of three basic parts: the brain stem, limbic system and cortex. These are sometimes described as the primitive, emotional and thinking brains.

In most situations, our thinking brain mediates physical responses to the world around us.

But under high amounts of stress, this connecting loop between the more reactive emotional and physical parts of our brain and our thinking cortex becomes separated. University of California, Los Angeles, professor of psychiatry Dan Siegel describes this as flipping our lid.

Flipping our lid is an automatic response and, from an evolutionary perspective, it’s a highly useful one – we don’t have time to think about whether or not to run when our lives are threatened.

But in a bushfire, these automatic responses are often not the best way to respond and can prompt us to make unsafe decisions.

To survive a bushfire, we need to make complex and often highly emotional decisions in rapidly changing conditions.

How do you control the fear?

In an analysis of 33 people who survived extreme conditions in the Black Saturday bushfires, researchers tentatively concluded that the major contributor to their survival was their ability to maintain their mental focus. They could control their fear and keep their attention on the threat and how to respond.

In order to stay and defend safely, it’s vital to have the skills to re-connect the loop between the thinking and the automatic and feeling parts of the brain.

The AIM model, based on stress inoculation theory, suggests preparing before bushfire by anticipating, identifying and developing strategies for coping with stress:

  • anticipate: know how the brain and body responds in an emergency (and that these are normal)

  • identify: be aware that this response is occurring (what is happening in your mind/body that tells you that you are acting from the “basement brain”)

  • manage: have practised strategies for switching mindsets and re-establishing the brain loop.

A large Australian study shows people who are better psychologically prepared for a bushfire:

  • have accessed information on what it means to be mentally prepared
  • have previous experience of bushfires
  • are mindful (have the ability to stay present)
  • use an active coping style such as the AIM model (anticipate, identify, manage)
  • have low levels of stress and depression.

Currently, the most accessible resource on developing mental preparedness is the Australian Red Cross RediPlan guide which includes preparing your mind based on the AIM (anticipate, identify, manage) model.




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The Conversation


Danielle Every, Senior Research Fellow in social vulnerability and disasters, CQUniversity Australia and Mel Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Want more jobs in Australia? Cut our ore exports and make more metals at home


Trucks taking iron ore from mines in Western Australia where it will probably be shipped overseas.
Shutterstock/Inc

Michael Lord, University of Melbourne

Australia could create tens of thousands of new jobs and generate many billions of dollars in export revenues if it turned more to manufacturing metals rather than exporting ore to other countries.

That’s a finding of our report, From Mining to Making, released by the Energy Transition Hub.

As international climate action accelerates, there is a need to produce goods without the carbon emissions. The report describes opportunities for Australia to use its exceptional wind and solar resources to make zero-emissions metals.




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The need for metal

Demand for metals is set to grow, not least because of their importance in nearly all renewable energy technologies. Wind turbines are made from steel, copper and rarer metals such as cobalt and neodymium. Solar panels and batteries use metals including silicon, lithium, manganese, nickel and titanium.

As the global economy tries to reduce carbon emissions we must change the way metals are made. Metal production is energy intensive and accounts for around 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Herein lies Australia’s opportunity.

Australia is already a major source of the world’s metal. It is among the top three exporters of iron ore, bauxite, lithium, manganese and rare earth metals.

A small proportion of these metals are refined domestically, but most are shipped overseas in their raw mineral form. For example, we found Australia converts less than 1% of its iron ore into steel.

By exporting raw ores, Australia is selling non-renewable resources at the lowest point of the value chain. Processed metal is worth much more than ore.

Metal needs energy

Many metals are made through electrically-driven processes so we can reduce carbon emissions by switching to cheaper renewable electricity.

One example for this approach is Sun Metals, near Townsville in Queensland. The company built a 125MW solar farm to supply a third of the energy required by its zinc refinery. It is now considering adding wind power and battery storage.

Similar opportunities exist with the production of other metals such as manganese, copper, nickel and rare earths.

Another angle for Australia is to make specialised metal products with higher profit margins. Element 25, in Western Australia, plans to produce high-value manganese metal using an energy-efficient process developed with CSIRO. The company says a 90% renewable energy mix could lower production costs and help it compete with Chinese producers.

Renewable energy could even relieve Australia’s ailing aluminium industry. The owners of three of Australia’s existing aluminium smelters said they were “not sustainable” with current electricity prices. Could cheap wind and solar energy provide a lifeline?

The usual objection is that aluminium smelters need a steady power input, not variable solar and wind energy. But, new technologies enable more flexible operation, allowing smelters to react to market conditions, while relieving pressure on the grid during peaks in demand.

Steel production presents a different kind of problem. It uses so much coal that it accounts for 7% of global emissions. But new steel can be made without coal.

Many steelmakers around the world use an alternative process, called direct reduction, fuelled by natural gas. This technique reduces emissions by about 40% and can be modified to run on pure renewable hydrogen, enabling production of near-zero emissions steel.

At least five companies in Europe are actively pursuing hydrogen-based steel production as part of their efforts to eliminate emissions. So far there are no similar plans in Australia despite this country’s unrivalled wealth of iron ore and renewable resources.

The jobs boom

Zero-emissions metals could become a major export industry. Our report explores a scenario in which Australia could double the value of its iron and steel exports to A$150 billion by converting just 18% of currently mined iron ore into steel using renewable hydrogen.

This would be a welcome boost for the national balance of trade, counteracting any reduction in coal exports due to climate and energy policies among Australia’s trading partners.

Making this amount of zero-emissions steel requires a huge amount of renewable electricity – almost double the total electricity generated in Australia in 2018.

But this demand for renewable energy is part of the point – Australia can do this, most of our competitors cannot due to their greater energy demand relative to land suitable for generating renewable energy.

A successful zero emissions metal industry would bring many thousands of steady jobs, often in regional areas with higher unemployment. It could also support towns such as Portland, in Victoria, and Gladstone, in Queensland, where metal producers are already the chief employer.

The market for zero-emissions metals is likely to be enormous. Until recently, emissions embodied in materials have been neglected. But this is changing, as hundreds of the world’s largest companies commit to reducing the emissions of their supply chains.

For example, car makers Volkswagen and Toyota are aiming for zero-carbon production.

In September the World Green Building Council challenged the global construction sector to ensure all new buildings have net-zero embodied carbon by 2050. Such public commitments are a strong signal to manufacturers everywhere.

Make it happen

Zero-emissions metals could be one of Australia’s most significant new industries of the 21st century.




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Australia has plenty of gas, but our bills are ridiculous. The market is broken


To make it happen, our report recommends governments acknowledge this opportunity by creating a National Zero-Emissions Metals strategy, committing serious resources to ensure it succeeds. This strategy should identify and evaluate Australia’s best opportunities within the metals sector.

If we don’t do something then, as South Australian Senator Rex Patrick put it, we’ll just continue to “export rocks” and let others reap the benefits from developing technologies to process them.The Conversation

Michael Lord, Zero Carbon Researcher, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Preventing foreign fighters from returning home could be dangerous to national security



Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is pushing to have new security laws passed by parliament as quickly as possible.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Greg Barton, Deakin University

A key element in the success of countering terrorism in Australia has been a series of new and amended pieces of legislation – at least 75 – developed to respond to an evolving threat.

This includes legislation produced in October 2014 (Section 119.2 and 119.3 of the Criminal Code) that declared areas of Iraq and Syria, including the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State (IS) caliphate, illegal for Australian citizens to enter. Anyone who has lived in this territory and seeks to return to Australia will have to prove they were not assisting IS or face prosecution and a possible punishment of up to 25 years in prison.

Innovative pieces of legislation like the proposed Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEO) bill introduced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton are difficult to argue with. Existing national security laws already place Australia in a much stronger position than any other Western nation when it comes to managing the prosecution and detention of returning IS fighters.

Nevertheless, there is a limit to what legislation itself can do. Moreover, for every possible advantage, there are also possible disadvantages that need to be weighed up.

There is not a whole lot more the new TEO bill can be reasonably expected to achieve. And as the weight of legislation increases, there are reasonable questions to be asked about checks and balances and proportionate implementation.

In other words, the devil is very much in the detail.

Questions that need answering

Three questions need to be asked:

  • First, what is the actual need for this bill? And what is the likelihood the proposed legislation can meet this need?

  • Second, what are the potential downsides that might come with enacting this legislation?

  • Third, in the light of the first two questions, what then should be done?

There is no question, that with at least 80 individuals who have fought with IS now in a position to possibly return, any legislative tool that can help manage this risk is worth considering.

Specifically, there is clearly a benefit to being able to delay somebody’s return by at least two years, and through a process of extensions perhaps many more years. There is also an advantage, when they do return, of being able to legally impose conditions on who they meet with and where they go.




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The government has pointed out that around 40 Australians have already returned from Syria and Iraq under suspicion of being involved with terrorist groups. To have been able to delay and then manage the return of these 40 fighters clearly would have been very useful.

But what has not been explained by the government is that these 40 individuals came back to Australia more than six years ago, and only a couple have so far been successfully prosecuted.

If the need was so urgent, why wasn’t a temporary exclusion order introduced in late 2014 when we first began to process a raft of counter-terrorism bills and amendments? Or in 2015 when the UK introduced similar legislation?

First line of defence

There is, in fact, no immediate crisis, and undue haste in passing further security legislation should be avoided because it is very dangerous to national security.

If TEOs are applied excessively, and without sufficient discrimination, a number of risks arise. Individuals currently detained in overcrowded detention centres in Syria or Iraq might be released if their repatriation to Australia is delayed by years.

Or, they could be broken out of detention by IS insurgents, who remain deadly and numerous. This happened on dozens of occasions when IS needed to replenish its ranks.

Allowing our citizens to be somebody else’s problem, out of sight and out of mind, does not actually make the security risk to Australians go away. Leaving them offshore leaves open the very real possibility that they will eventually slip away into the terrorist underground or rejoin the IS insurgency.




Read more:
How Indonesia is dealing with the new threat posed by returning Islamic State fighters


Should they do so, they immediately become a risk through their ability to influence others online and via social media.

It is likely that TEOs will be also applied to women and children we really should be repatriating. This would pass the buck to others to look after and secure these women and children, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are already overstretched and unable to deal with the burden of indefinitely detaining those who have fled the decaying IS caliphate.

There is also a real risk this legislation, much like other bills that allow Dutton to strip somebody of their citizenship on the grounds they potentially have access to alternative citizenship, could undermine confidence and trust within key communities in Australia.

As then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after the murder of Sydney police accountant Curtis Cheng by a 15-year-old recruited by IS supporters in 2015, our first line of defence in fighting groups like Islamic State is the Muslim community.

Intelligence is key to countering terrorism and working with communities and families to encourage people to speak up when they see something of concern. To the extent that trust and confidence are eroded, national security will be directly diminished.

Amendments that could help

So what should be done?

Speaking last week at his farewell dinner, outgoing Labor Senator Doug Cameron spelled out the larger issues that need to be addressed.

Our existing oversight is inferior and, in my view, almost non-existent. This is unacceptable and we should ensure our inferior parliamentary oversight of security agencies is changed and oversight is enhanced.

Cameron is not the only one to express concerns. This bill was first introduced into the 45th Parliament. The Liberal-dominated Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) produced an extensive review and a detailed report on the bill.




Read more:
Why is it so difficult to prosecute returning fighters?


Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, a member of the PJCIS, has since complained that the government had

rejected four of the PJCIS recommendations in whole, rejected six in part and ignored one.

This, despite the fact that these recommendations came as a result of the considered reasoning of senior figures from both the Liberals and Labor.

One of the key amendments recommenced by the PJCIS is that the minister of home affairs should only be empowered to order a temporary exclusion order if he or she

reasonably suspects the person is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activities outside Australia

And that a TEO should only be made

if it would substantially assist in preventing the provision of support for, or the facilitation of, a terrorist act.

The principle of being able to impose TEOs certainly bears consideration. While this is no “silver bullet”, there is a case for passing the bill after including the amendments thoughtfully proposed by the PJCIS.

Without a better system of oversight, we risk undermining community trust and confidence by setting in place policy that leads to dire consequences and diminishes our national security.

Now is not the time to make haste at the expense of national security, as well as the very values that define us as Australians.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Go home on time! Working long hours increases your chance of having a stroke



Is it time to cut back on overtime?
Annie Spratt

Libby Sander, Bond University

Australia is in the bottom third of OECD countries when it comes to working long hours, with 13% of us clocking up 50 hours or more a week in paid work.

These long hours are bad for our health. A new study from France has found that regularly working long days of ten hours or more increases our risk of having a stroke.

Other research has found that employees who work long work hours are likely to have poorer mental health and lower-quality sleep.

Long working hours have also been shown to increase likelihood of smoking, excessive drinking, and weight gain.




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Long hours at the office could be killing you – the case for a shorter working week


Long hours are bad for our health

The effects of regular long work hours on our health are wide-ranging.

The new French study of more than 143 ,000 participants found those who worked ten or more hours a day for at least 50 days per year had a 29% greater risk of stroke.

The association showed no difference between men and women, but was stronger in white-collar workers under 50 years of age.

Another meta-analysis of more than 600,000 people, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, found similar effects. Employees working long hours (40-55 hours per week) have a higher risk of stroke compared with those working standard working hours (35-40 hours per week).

The association between long working hours and stroke was stronger among white-collar workers.
Bonneval Sebastien

Irregular work hours, or shift work, has also been associated with a range of negative health and well-being outcomes, including the disruption of our circadian rhythm, sleep, accident rates, mental health, and the risk of having a heart attack.




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Power naps and meals don’t always help shift workers make it through the night


And it’s not just the physical effects. Regularly working long hours results in poor work-life balance, leading to lower job satisfaction and performance, as well as lower satisfaction with life and relationships.

Why are we working more?

Although many countries have imposed statutory limits on the work week, worldwide around 22% of workers are working more than 48 hours a week. In Japan, long work hours are such a significant issue that karoshi – translated as “death by overwork” – is a legally recognised cause of death.

Concerns around automation, slow wage growth, and increasing underemployment are some of the reasons Australians are working longer. A 2018 study showed Australians worked around 3.2 billion hours in unpaid overtime.




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Are you burnt out at work? Ask yourself these 4 questions


And work doesn’t end for many people when they leave the office. If they aren’t doing extra work at home, taking calls, or attending after-hours meetings online, working second jobs is increasingly becoming the norm. Many Australians now work additional jobs through the gig economy.

The influence of job control

Autonomy and “decision latitude” at work – that is, the level of control over how and when you perform your duties – is a contributing factor to the increased risk of health problems.

Low levels of decision latitude, as well as shift work, are associated with a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes. Individual control plays a significant role in human behaviour; the extent to which we believe we can control our environment considerably impacts our perceptions of and reactions to that environment.

Early psychology research, for example, showed that reactions to the administration of an electric shock were very much influenced by the perception of control the person had over the stimulus (even if they did not actually have control).

Workers who have little autonomy or control are more likely to experience health problems than those who have a high level of control.
NeONBRAND



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These findings were echoed in data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It found that a lack of alignment between an individual’s preferences and their actual working hours resulted in lower reported levels of satisfaction and mental health. The results applied both to workers who worked long hours and to those who wanted more hours.

What can employers do?

Effective communication with employees is important. Employees may be unable to complete their work in standard hours, for example, as a result of having to spend excessive amounts of time in meetings.

Employers can take steps to implement policies to ensure that long work isn’t occurring regularly. The Australia Institute holds an annual Go Home on Time Day to encourage employees to achieve work-life balance. While this initiative raises awareness of work hours, going home on time should be the norm rather than the exception.




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Business owners’ control of their work-life balance is the fine line between hard work and hell


Increasing employees’ input into their work schedule and hours can have positive effects on performance and well-being.

The design of the workplace to promote well-being is an important factor. Research on shift work has shown that enhancing the workplace by providing food, child care, health care, accessible transport, and recreational facilities can reduce the effects of shift work.

By improving conditions and benefits, employers can help ameliorate the negative health impact of shift work.
Asael Peña

Finally, implementing flexible work practices, where employees have some control over their schedule, to encourage work-life balance has been shown to have positive effects on well-being.

Such initiatives require ongoing support. Japan instituted Premium Friday, encouraging employees to go home at 3pm once a month. Initial results, however, showed that only 3.7% of employees took up the initiative. The low take-up can be attributed to a cultural norm of lengthy work days, and a collectivist mindset where employees worry about inconveniencing peers when they take time off.

Given the rise in concerns about future work, and workplace cultures where long hours are the norm, change may be slow in coming about, despite the negative health effects of long work hours.The Conversation

Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.