No End to COVID-19 themed cyberattacks in sight

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INTERPOL has issued a warning about the rising levels of cybercriminal activity related to the COVID- 19 pandemic. More troubling still, the report notes these attacks are likely to continue even if a vaccine for the virus is discovered. Phishing attacks purporting to share information about any eagerly awaited COVID-19 vaccine will be launched long before it might ever become available, notes INTERPOL.

Citing research conducted by third-party partners, INTERPOL reports it tracked from January through April roughly 907,000 spam messages, 737 incidents related to malware, and 48,000 malicious URLs that have some connection to COVID-19.

The report notes there has been a significant increase of cybercriminals registering domain names containing keywords, such as “coronavirus” or “COVID”. From February to March 2020, there was a 569% growth in malicious registrations and a 788% growth in high-risk registrations, according to the report.

Threat actors have revised their online scams and phishing schemes to launch COVID-19 themed phishing emails, often impersonating government and health authorities, confirms the report. In addition, the report notes in the first two weeks of April there was a spike in ransomware attacks by multiple threat groups which previously had been relatively dormant.

Finally, the report also finds usage of data harvesting malware such as Remote Access Trojan, info stealers, spyware and banking Trojans as part of COVID-19 attack is on the rise and that cybercriminals have become more adept at accurately estimating the maximum amount of ransom they can demand from organizations that fall victim to ransomware attacks.

Disinformation, of course, is a major contributing factor in terms of creating an appetite for false COVID-19 information. Unverified information and conspiracy theories have contributed to anxiety that in turn facilitates the execution of cyberattacks. There are also reports of misinformation being linked to the illegal trade of fraudulent medical commodities and scams involving mobile text-messages containing offers for free food, special benefits, or large discounts in supermarkets.

INTERPOL is warning both individuals and organizations to be more vigilant when it comes to cybersecurity as people work more often from home and that as the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic persists to be wary of business email compromises schemes through which criminals trick, for example, finance departments to wire funds to pay off bogus invoices.

None of these attacks are especially new. Most cybersecurity professionals have encountered at least one variant of them all. What has changed is the volume. As the number of attacks using some form of a COVID-19 lure increases, the actual instances where the attacker is likely to be successful only increases. Before too long, cybersecurity teams are inundated with remediation requests for machines that in many cases their organization doesn’t actually own.

There may, of course, come a day when most employees return to the office on a full-time basis. However, given how long it might take to discover and test a vaccine and then inoculate enough people to make it effective most cybersecurity teams at this point would be well advised to plan for the worst in the very short term while continuing to hope longer term for a return to the “old normal.”

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