COVID-19 and Cybersecurity

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), was first reported from Wuhan, China in late December 2019. The deadly disease has been spreading rapidly around the world forcing many social activities to be cancelled around the globe.  In light of the pandemic, organizations are ensuring strategies to protect staff and every member of our community. Many people are working from home, companies are closing down and telling employees to stay and work indoors. Most learning institutions have also been suspended until when the government can contain the disease. In the wake of such global crises, cybercriminals attempt to sow discord, spread disinformation, and seek financial gain.

Apart from bringing chaos in different sectors such as finance, manufacturing, and healthcare, it has resulted in a new cybersecurity threat. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a warning on ongoing scams concerning the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020. The scams aim to exploit fear and uncertainty on people concerning the spread of the disease.

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How Cyber Criminals are taking advantage of Covid-19

The Internet can be a great source of information. However, not everything on the Internet is a legitimate resource. At a time when people are hungry for information on the deadly virus, where the world is facing a crisis, criminals are taking advantage of Covid-19 fears to infect computers with malware.

  1. COVID-19 phishing and social engineering scams

One of the main techniques used by attackers is phishing. In this period when cases of coronavirus are on the rise, there have been several reports of email phishing campaigns using COVID-19-related issues. These scams started almost immediately after confirmed infections began to increase in January 2020. Criminals are targeting health organizations such as the WHO, and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for impersonation due to their perceived authority. Many people have fallen victims of fake URL’s and document downloads promising important safety documentation or infection maps. As from January 20th, there has been an increase in domains registered under COVID- 19 up to over 1200 domains. While most of these could be legitimate, there exists a number of them with malicious intent There was a phishing scam that looked like an official email from WHO. The email had a document with measures to prevent the spread of the new diseases; however, it directed victims to a malicious domain that intended to get credentials from their targets.

2. COVID-19 counterfeit goods

The rapid spread of coronavirus has led to a shortage of healthcare equipment such as face masks and hand sanitizers. Due to COVID-19 outbreak, most exports from China have stopped despite it being the largest manufacturer of these medical facial masks. This means that manufactures outside China are straining and counterfeit products are on the rise.  Within the short period, there have been several shady websites who have promise heavily discounted facial masks. Many people have fallen victims of ordering products that may not even exist.

Medical equipment have been on sale on cybercriminal marketplaces. For instance, listings on Empire which is an English-language dark web marketplace ironically offers to push COVID-19 goods such as facial masks. Such vendors have been known to engage in the sale of illicit drugs, but now want to take advantage of the current situation.

3. COVID-19 misinformation

There has been a lot of misinformation about the virus spreading through social media platforms. This is the spread of fake news about the disease. Misinformation on the internet may not have direct financial impacts like other cybercrimes do but they spread fear and panic to the public.

As the deadly COVID-19 presents a significant global security risk to both individuals and organizations across the globe, ongoing cybercriminal activities can result in financial damage and promote dangerous guidance, hence putting additional strain on efforts to contain the virus.

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Ways to Identify and Fight COVID-19 Cyberthreat

The Coronavirus outbreak has gripped the world with crucial impact on cyberspace. Cybersecurity is an additional threat level to overburdened hospitals, clinics, and research facilities. Reports are emerging from all parts of the globe about cyberattacks are as a result of COVID-19. The greatest task has now become to combat these cyber-attacks at the same trying to contain the disease. Leaders in cybersecurity have come together to stop cyberattacks particularly targeting the Healthcare sector in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

There is a need for more cybersecurity firms to help eliminate these threats. C5 Capital is making an effort to create C5 Alliance of leading cybersecurity firms such as Haven Cyber Technologies, 4iQ, IronNet, and ITC Secure. This is a response to the up to150% increase of unprecedented assault of healthcare cyber threats in the last two months. They include phishing emails that resemble those from WHO and ransomware. This alliance will make sure it protects, healthcare internal systems and databases for healthcare workers, patients and volunteers.

Be alert on any communication purporting to come from WHO. This requires extra keenness because most of these emails appear to be coming from legitimate domain addresses. Major branding trademarks from WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An article from Karspesky exposes some fake emails having domains such as cdcgov[.]org and cdc-gov[.]org that when clicked fake Microsoft Outlook login page and asked victims to donate a Bitcoin to help in aid of finding the vaccine for COVID-19. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends that interested parties should visit the websites directly for correct information concerning the disease. The request of any cryptocurrency payments should be a sign that you are dealing with a malicious email because these organizations do not accept this type of payment. 

Users should disable macros in Microsoft Office if not required. Recorded Future analysts in association to COVID-19 has observed malicious attachments use VBA macros as an initial part of the infection of victims VBA macros is an infection mechanism for malicious documents used for phishing lures.

In conclusion, the cybersecurity industry has a key role to play in ensuring attackers have no chance of trespassing healthcare data. Hackers are coming up with many more other techniques to obtain credentials from victims. That is why proper action needs to be taken to distinguish between legitimate and malicious domains.

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