High profile tragedies like the spread of Coronavirus have a way of bringing out the very best in people and businesses. Many of us are going out of our way to help our fellow neighbors. Credit card companies are relaxing late fees and mortgage companies are putting off penalties.
But, that does not mean everyone is on their best behavior as we battle through the relentless spread of the highly contagious airborne virus.
Criminals are using the fear caused by Coronavirus as a way of unleashing new cybercrimes aimed at exploiting us out of our money, passwords, and other sensitive information.
In fact, cybercrimes have become such a big problem that the National Cyber Security Centre in the United Kingdom issued an advisory this week warning people of the threat.
In the United States, fake websites sell supposed cures for the Coronavirus or hard-to-find medical tools and supplies, like masks, for sky-high prices. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was ordered to stop selling toothpaste and other products he claimed were “stop-gaps” for the virus.
And, millions of emails from cybercriminals are sent daily to unsuspecting people promising safety tips, Coronavirus outbreak trackers and magical cures, designed in the hopes that people will click links and download files used to exploit a fearful population.
How can we protect ourselves from becoming a victim of a Coronavirus-based cybercrime?
3 Cybercrimes To Watch Out For
Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is a type of crime aimed at extracting sensitive information from people (like passwords, dates of birth and addresses) by entities that claim to provide critical, important or time-sensitive updates, and often playing off of people’s fears or unease.
For example, several phishing scams involve emails that appear to have come from the World Health Organization, or WHO, asking people for money or to reveal usernames and passwords, join special offers or enter to win so-called prizes. These emails will contain a malicious link that appears to be from the World Health Organization’s site but is actually a site owned by the attacker.
What to do: If you get an email that contains links – especially from sites or resources that don’t normally email you, be very careful before clicking those links. Check the “From” address to make sure it looks legitimate, and also inspect the web address of the link before clicking. You can generally do this by hovering your mouse pointer over the link for a couple of seconds.
Malware is software designed to record, track or steal information from computer systems and networks on which it is installed. Computer viruses and spyware are types of malware, and cyber criminals often send malware as attachments to email, hoping people will download and install the software.
Malware is especially deceptive because criminals can infect an innocent-looking Microsoft Word document with the virus, hoping people will download and open the file. And believe it or not, Malware that looks like an interactive Coronavirus-based map has been spotted for sale on Russian cybercrime forums.
What to do: Never, under any circumstances, download an attachment, open a file or install a piece of software that was sent to you in email unless you are completely sure that you trust the source. Even if the email appears to have come from a friend or coworker, take additional precautions by inspecting the From email address. When in doubt, don’t download or open the attachment.
Computer systems in the Czech Republic were shut down recently after a ransomware attack that asked users to unnecessarily shut down machines – in this case, including machines that were responsible for critical Coronavirus tests. Ransomware is software that effectively holds computer systems hostage until an action is taken, like paying the attacker.
Another ransomware attack, codenamed CovidLock, appeared to users as a real-time Coronavirus tracker but was actually an Android-based application that locked users from access to their phone until they pay $100 in Bitcoin to the cybercriminal. Clever designs, coupled with a climate of fear, help to assist the effectiveness of ransomware as people look to stay updated on the current spread of the virus and new restrictions, closures and death counts.
What to do: Never download or install anything to your computer or phone unless you are 100% sure that it’s safe. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution. Also, only download applications to your phone from the official “store” of your phone – like the Google Play store on Android or the Apple Store for iPhones.
How To Protect Yourself from a Cyber Attack
Though we’ve briefly discussed ways to prevent being a victim of cybercrimes, there are many other techniques that smart computer users use to avoid falling prey to them.
Here are 6 essential tips to protect yourself from a cybercrime.
- Never click on links in emails, or download attachments, unless you are 100% confident that they are safe and you know their source; don’t automatically download attachments
- Never give your password or other personal information to anyone or any website unless you are completely sure you’re on the correct website (or talking to the right person)
- If you are called by a supposed customer support representative and they ask for information like your social security number or password, ask them for a callback number; take their number, then call them back to ensure you’re actually talking to a legitimate person from the company
- Choose hard-to-guess passwords; never use passwords like 123456, password, abc123 or even your pet’s name without also including special characters…believe it or not, clever cybercriminals guess these common passwords all the time
- Pay attention to web addresses (URLs); like the World Health Organization phishing scam, criminals design websites that look exactly like legitimate businesses, but their web addresses will always be different
- Keep your operating system up to date; software manufacturers like Microsoft and Apple routinely publish security updates for their operating systems, and it’s generally wise to keep your system as up-to-date as possible
Be smart about your computer activities. We never like to believe that we might be a victim of an attack, but they happen all the time. Use these tips to help ensure that you stay safe online.