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Cybercriminals Preying on COVID-19 Confusion, NCSC Warns

Ross Kelly

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cybersecurity campaign

Cybercriminals’ tactics are evolving to capitalise on the confusion over the COVID-19 pandemic, security agencies have warned.

British and US security agencies have warned that cybercriminals and malicious online groups are ramping up efforts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint statement issued yesterday (April 9th), the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) advised increased vigilance for people and businesses.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the agencies have not recorded an increase in the overall level of cybercrime. However, threat actors are employing new tactics to capitalise on the situation, and it is expected that the frequency of COVID-19 related attacks will increase in the coming weeks and months.

Paul Chichester, Director of Operations at the NCSC, said: “Malicious actors are adjusting their tactics to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, and the NCSC is working round the clock with its partners to respond.”

Both individuals and organisations around the world are being targeted with ransomware and malware, the NCSC said, with some examples including scam emails that appear to be from the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). These malicious emails lure unsuspecting users into revealing personal information or downloading software.

Other scam emails being circulated claim to offer thermometers, face masks and other types of PPE to fight the deadly virus. The techniques prey on people’s need for reliable information on COVID-19, the NCSC insisted.

Chichester urged people to use only trusted sources of information during the outbreak and to remain alert for potential scams.

He said: “Our advice to the public and organisations is to remain vigilant and follow our guidance, and to only use trusted sources of information on the virus such as UK Government, Public Health England or NHS websites.”

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An area of key concern for both the NCSC and CISA amid the outbreak is the use of remote working tools. More and more people are turning to apps such as Zoom to communicate with colleagues and maintain a degree of normality in their working routine. However, the agencies have detected cybercriminals scanning for vulnerabilities in such apps.

Some of the ways which cybercriminals are exploiting the rise of remote working tools include phishing emails with attachments naming legitimate video conference providers. These scam emails aim to trick users into downloading malicious files.

Bryan Ware, CISA Assistant Director for Cybersecurity, commented: “We urge everyone to remain vigilant to these threats, be on the lookout for suspicious emails and look to trusted sources for information and updates regarding COVID-19. We are all in this together and collectively we can help defend against these threats.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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