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Coronavirus Scams: How to defend against cybercriminals taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic

posted by: FraudWatch International date: Mar 20, 2020 category: Active Scams, Industry News comments: 0

The spreading of Coronavirus worldwide during the past few months has hurt hundreds of thousands of businesses and individuals. Wherever the virus has struck, countless industries have been affected, causing mass shutdowns. As always, cybercriminals almost immediately began exploiting the situation for their own good and started launching cyber-attacks that prey upon the public’s fear and need for information. They use COVID-19 as the theme to lure victims into opening malicious attachments or links.

Cyber criminals and other parties have been carrying out several types of scams since the Coronavirus pandemic was announced. Here are a few examples of cyber-attacks being monitored over the past few weeks:

  • Phishing – There have been numerous emails going around containing links or attachments supposedly providing information about the Coronavirus, when in fact, they aim to infect PCs or mobile devices with malware.
  • State sponsored attacks – Security researchers have identified recent attempts by nation state actors from Russia, China and North Korea to utilise the situation to hide malware in documents containing information on the pandemic.
  • Malware – Cyber criminals have been using the Coronavirus theme to distribute malware. We have noticed a shift in criminal behaviour targeting China, Japan and Italy. A lot of them are impersonating health authorities to get users to click a link that contains malware in the form of Trickbot or other trojans.
  • Malicious Websites – More than 3,600 new domains containing the phrase “Coronavirus” were created in the past five days. The vast majority of them are destined to host phishing sites, spread malware etc.
  • Malicious Apps – Several malicious apps have also been uploaded to app stores (Google Play, Apple Store), mostly disguised as Coronavirus related content. In some cases, these were apps created by governments to track citizens, which raised suspicions of foul play.
  • Misinformation – A lot of websites and emails have been appearing containing false information regarding the pandemic, meant to frighten the public or get people to take actions they wouldn’t otherwise take. In many cases the senders are pretending to be from official organisations, such as the WHO, the CDC, etc.
  • Fraudulent Products – Cyber Criminals have also begun advertising fraudulent products claiming to help people cope with the situation, such as face masks. These criminals often disappear after receiving the money.

Below are some recommended best practices to decrease the chances of falling victim to a scam:

  • Be suspicious of every email you get regarding Coronavirus, especially if it is from an address you do not recognise or contains grammar and spelling mistakes. Also, avoid opening links or attachments from unknown sources. It is possible to hover the mouse cursor over hyperlinks to see where they actually lead.
  • Avoid emails or advertisements that urge you to “act now”. This sense of urgency is meant to enhance the already induced panic of the situation, to pressure people into making irrational decisions.
  • Do not give money or personal information to websites or people you do not trust 100%. If you are approached, try to verify details and call back yourself via a number obtained from a different source, e.g. Google.
  • Get your information from official sources (see list below), and try to avoid unreliable sources, such as social media posts.
  • If you wish to donate money to charity organisations, do this by searching for their official websites or phone numbers, and not through advertisements or when approached.

Since the Coronavirus shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon, it’s safe to assume that cyber criminals will continue trying to exploit the situation and create more attacks, using the methods mentioned above and in new ways as well. It is important to stay as vigilant as possible to safeguard your business from getting hit.

Here’s where you can find reliable information about the Coronavirus pandemic:

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