Covid-19 pandemic provides a new hack for cyber criminals

There has been a steady rise amongst spam emails linked to Corona virus recently. Security experts have stated this to be the worst possible cyber threat in a long time. 

Individuals along with industries have been subjected to these fraudulent campaigns on their computer screens. Emails written in English, French, Japanese, Italian and Turkish languages have been reported by people working in industries such as aerospace, transport, hospitality, insurance, healthcare, etc.  

In order to impart awareness regarding this scam, BBC has traced and subsequently noted five such campaigns for the benefit of public interest.

1. Click to Cure-

In the month of February, several researchers from Proofpoint, a reputed cyber-security firm, observed an unusual message received by customers. This chain email was initiated by a doctor who claimed knowledge about a vaccine for Covid-19 kept under the covers by the respective governments in China and UK. 

The emails, generated at a rate of 200,000 at a time, presented the readers with a document attached to it which take them to a website which intended to extract customers’ user information. 

Sherrod DeGrippo, a member of Proofpoint’s threat research and detection team, stated that spiteful email campaigns like this have been prevalent for 30-35 consequent days, appearing in three to four distinct versions. The people’s fear for corona virus has been conveniently exploited for them to not just pay attention to these campaigns but also to respond to them by catering to the withheld instructions. 
In order to avoid such campaigns, it is suggested that the users place their cursor over a link before opening it and refrain from clicking it if the link appears suspicious.

2. The Tax Refund Program-

Another firm named Mimecast detected a new form of scam message, which claimed to be a notice from the government. Over 200 users have been detected to have received this message over the web which states that the government of the United Kingdom has established a tax refund program for dealing with the corona virus outbreak.

It further went on to say that every individual was entitled to receive a tax refund of 128.34 GBP. Upon clicking on ‘access your funds’ link, the users were subjected to new page where they were asked to enter their financial and tax related information. 

A strong warning was issued for the general public telling them not to respond to any email or other electronic messages related to monetary matters. Head of E-crime at Mimecast, Carl Wearn stated that no one should be click on any such messages as this is not how the government  would implement its tax refund policies. 

3. Unsafe Measures of Safety-

Several users reported an email they received from the WHO. This email spoke briefly about the outbreak of corona virus and its symptoms and further presented them with an attached document which claimed to list down ‘little measures’ that could ‘save’ the people reading them. 

 However Proofpoint pointed out soon that the document did not contain any valuable information. Instead, opening the document subjected the user machines to a detrimental software called AgentTesla Keylogger. 

This software keeps a track of every key that is struck on their machines and subsequently allows the hacker to view all users’ activities on the web. It is thus suggested to view the official website of WHO instead of catering to fake emails like this. 

4. The CDC Issues a Warning-

An email with a subject line that read ‘Covid-19 – now airborne, increased community transmission’ was sent to users via an email address that legitimately appeared to be sourced from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organizations’ authenticity was not questioned by the users, which led to further trouble. 

The users, under a state of fear and panic, opened a link which took them to a Microsoft login page asking them about login and password details. This was followed by a redirection to the official page of the CDC while full control of the users’ email account was under hackers. 

This scam was first detected by Cofense, a cyber defense provider. They pointed out how ‘good forgery’ coupled with a ‘high stress situation’ turned out to be quite a successful cyber crime. Precautionary measures for such emails include a two-factor authentication system that implements several layers of security before granting complete access to an email account. 

5. Every Bit of Help Counts-  

A forged email claiming to be sent by the CDC requested the users to donate money for the development of a vaccine and stated that the payments be made in BBEWitcoin.

The users were once again trapped by information that appeared genuine before Kaspersky, another cyber security firm detected over 500 cases of such scam emails that contained malware. The principal security researcher at Kaspersky, David Emm added that a steady increase in the number of such cases is expected alongside the outbreak of corona virus.

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