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COVID-19 and cybercrime

COVID-19 has seen a significant target shift in terms of cybercrime from individuals and small businesses to major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure, according to the international police body Interpol.

With businesses deploying remote systems and networks to support staff working from home, criminals are also taking advantage of security vulnerabilities to steal data, generate profits and cause disruption, says Interpol. In one four-month period, January to April 2020, some 907,000 spam messages, 737 incidents related to malware and 48,000 malicious URLs – all related to COVID-19 – were detected by one of Interpol’s private sector partners.

Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General said: “The increased online dependency for people around the world, is also creating new opportunities, with many businesses and individuals not ensuring their cyber defences are up to date. The report’s findings again underline the need for closer public-private sector cooperation if we are to effectively tackle the threat COVID-19 also poses to our cyber health.”

As for online scams and phishing, threat actors have revised their usual schemes. By deploying COVID-19 themed phishing emails, often impersonating government and health authorities, cybercriminals entice victims into providing their personal data and downloading malicious content. The deployment of data harvesting malware such as Remote Access Trojan, info stealers, spyware and banking Trojans by cybercriminals is on the rise; using COVID-19 related information as a lure.

And as for ‘fake news’; it’s spreading rapidly, Interpol says. Unverified information, inadequately understood threats, and conspiracy theories have contributed to anxiety and in some cases aided cyberattacks; besides misinformation linked to the illegal trade of fraudulent medical commodities. Other cases of misinformation involved scams via mobile text-messages containing ‘too good to be true’ offers such as free food, special benefits, or discounts in supermarkets.

When a COVID-19 vaccination is available, it is highly probable that there will be another spike in phishing related to these medical products., Interpol warns.

Separately, Interpol has issued a Purple Notice to warn its 194 member countries of the modus operandi used by criminals for non-delivery fraud. Criminals promise sought-after goods, collect payment, then never deliver. While the principle is simple, the fraud scheme is often sophisticated and can yield huge profits, Interpol says.

Its advice:

Be aware of bogus websites – criminals will often use a web address which looks almost identical to the legitimate one, e.g. ‘abc.org’ instead of ‘abc.com’;
Verify the company/individual offering the items before making any purchases;
Check online reviews and consumer protection groups – for example, have other customers complained about not receiving the promised items?;
Be wary if asked to make a payment to a bank account located in a different country, as it is more difficult to liaise with entities abroad once fraud is detected;
Keep your radar on high alert, especially if you are asked to pay unplanned fees.

Comment

Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, said: “It is no surprise to see that Interpol believe there will be further cyberattacks in the coming weeks, as the pandemic has created increased opportunities globally for malicious activity to take place. Our recent research into the first “100 days of COVID-19”, found a 33pc increase in threat detection from the period of January-March 2020 alone. It is important that organisations migrate away from a “keeping the lights on” mentality and prioritise cybersecurity, especially at a time when threats aimed at a dispersed workforce are increasing. Failing to do so can lead to issues such as organisational downtime, data loss, and a negative impact on employee productivity. Organisations also need to be educating their workforce on cybersecurity, as Mimecast research shows that 50pc of employees still open attachments from unknown sources, and 40pc are fooled by an email pretending to be from a member of their organisation every week. Despite this poor cyber-hygiene, 56% of UK organisations do not provide awareness training on a frequent basis, with 21pc only offering training once a year. This must change.

“To defend and mitigate the threats, it is key that organisations build a layered approach to cybersecurity resilience, including cybersecurity responsibility and awareness embedded deeply throughout all sectors of organisational culture.”


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