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Cyber Criminals Using Covid-19 To Prey on People’s Fears

It’s not a new phenomenon that Cyber Criminals exploit people’s fears and vulnerabilities. It’s a tried, tested and successful tactic. When something works, people keep doing it.

We should not be surprised that exploiting fear is fair game for a criminal hacker. They are after all trying to get something from you (generally money or information) by deception, if they have to prey on your anxiety to do that then so be it.

Whilst we may have hoped in the wake of the worlds largest pandemic for a century, that some kind of social conscience might have kicked in, that has turned out not to be the case. Maybe it will change over the coming weeks, but for now, the reality is that the enormous amount of news and misinformation circulating about Covid 19 has made it the perfect subject for phishing related cybercrime.

People aren’t sure what to believe, we have no definitive certainty on how long it will go on, and as such, they are more likely to accept a Covid phishing attempt as real.

So when it comes to Covid based phishing scams, what do we know so far?
 

Let’s Start With The Big One
The World Health Organisation has confirmed that their “name” is being used in numerous scams. They have even posted a specific page on their web site under the title “Covid Scam” highlighting this is happening.

The scam here is simple, pose as the WHO and convince people to transfer donations. The advice from WHO on this is clear, the one and only place to donate funds is at this link which you should access by going directly to their page.
 
Dupe People by Telling Them What They Want To Hear
The New Straits Times published some examples of real Phishing scams using the Covid Outbreak as the “foot in the door”. In the example below, it takes the approach they have funds available to help businesses. The subtle psychology here is about telling people what they want to hear. If businesses are worrying about a downturn in the earnings, they become more receptive to potential “good news”. In desperation, people will become more inclined to believe a scam email which promises to solve their problem.

Making it look official
Cybersecurity company, Recorded Future note a significant rise in registrations for domains containing the Covid and Corona virus-related phrases. Their report on this matter states “The number of newly registered domains related to coronavirus has increased since the outbreak has become more widespread, with threat actors creating infrastructure to support malicious campaigns referring to COVID-19. The initial spike in domain registrations coincided with a large spike in reported COVID-19 cases in mid-February — a possible indicator that attackers may have begun to realize the utility of COVID-19 as a cyberattack vector.”

The key takeaway is that receiving an email from a domain that looks and sounds like an “official pandemic site” cannot just be accepted. If you have not heard of the organisation before, it usually only takes a few minutes of online research to establish whether the URL is related to a genuine organisation.
 
Exploiting the Face Mask Shortage
Interpol have also issued advice on the subject, highlighting the large rise in the number of Covid related scams. In particular, they highlighted phishing and phone frauds from “companies” claiming they have supplies of surgical masks. Disappointed victims have parted with their money to find no masks ever get delivered.

Chief of INTERPOL stated in a briefing on the matter “Anyone who is thinking of buying medical supplies online should take a moment and verify that you are in fact dealing with a legitimate, reputable company, otherwise your money could be lost to unscrupulous criminals."
 
Scams Follow Headlines
According to a blog published on email and phishing security expert Barracuda’s web site, email scams always follow the headlines. They have seen scammers using the current pandemic to counterfeit versions of medical devices that are in short supply, trick desperate people into buying fake and unproven cures, and offer investment opportunities into companies that claim are close to the cure.

It can’t be repeated enough that these scams work because they tell people what they want to hear. In their eagerness, desperation or joy at seeing this, people follow their hearts and don’t use a logical approach to spend a few minutes to test the veracity of the claims the scammers make.

Cybersecurity company, Norton, have recently pointed out how phishing is also done by scammers posing as if they are from within your organisation, so you need to watch out for that too. In an example email we have reproduced below, it shows how a mail which looks like it is an internal communication can be used to download malicious software onto your device if you click the link.

How Wide Spread is The Covid Cyber Scam Threat?
Just how real is this unneeded threat? Well, it seems the cybercriminals are jumping on the bandwagon big time. Security firm checkpoint has noted 4000 Covid-19 related domains have been registered globally since the outbreak and have stated that 8% of them are malicious or under investigation as they are likely malicious. They state that any Covid-19 related URL is 50% more likely to be malicious than other websites.

So like the virus itself, the security scammers exploiting the situation are also on a rapid rise.

Stay educated, and question any Covid related communication that promises a solution, asks for money or requires you to provide personal information. These times are trying enough without having to deal with the extra sucker punch of a cyber breach.

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