Criminals exploit COVID-19 fears to launch ‘unprecedented wave’ of global cyberattacks

Criminals have been exploiting fears over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to launch an “unprecedented wave” of cyberattacks around the world, experts have revealed. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 March 2020

Criminals exploit COVID-19 fears to launch ‘unprecedented wave’ of global cyberattacks

  • Thousands of incidents of digital crime related to the COVID-19 outbreak have been reported as countries battle to bring virus infections under control
  • One tactic used by cybercriminals was to send out bulk emails with the aim of tricking users into opening attachments and documents claiming to contain protective information about COVID-19

RIYADH: Criminals have been exploiting fears over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to launch an “unprecedented wave” of cyberattacks around the world, experts have revealed.

Governments and law enforcement agencies are being urged to join forces to combat the hackers who have been using the fear and panic surrounding the global health crisis to run money making scams, spread false information, and steal data.

Thousands of incidents of digital crime related to the COVID-19 outbreak have been reported as countries battle to bring virus infections under control.

Mohammed Khurram Khan, a professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University in Riyadh, said: “Panic, fear and confusion due to the coronavirus pandemic has spurred cybercriminals to launch an unprecedented wave of cyberattacks around the world which have targeted medical facilities, vaccine testing centers, and general users.

“These unscrupulous cybercriminals range from individuals to organized criminal gangs and even nation-state sponsored threat actors who are exploiting the current chaotic situation for their monetary benefits and inhuman instincts.”

Khan, who is also CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington, added: “COVID-19-themed cybercriminals recently registered thousands of web domains to launch their attacks via phishing emails, scams to plea for donations for vaccine development and research, and spread misinformation to create fear and panic among people.”

One tactic used by cybercriminals was to send out bulk emails with the aim of tricking users into opening attachments and documents claiming to contain protective information about COVID-19. When the files are accessed, damaging software (malware) is downloaded onto a computer, server, network or other device that is then capable of stealing sensitive information, spy on users, and surreptitiously extract important data.

The number of malicious mobile apps on COVID-19 had also rocketed, and Khan warned people to only download apps from official stores.

He said a ransomware hacking group had recently attacked the computer systems of Hammersmith Medicines Research (HMR), a coronavirus vaccine testing facility in London, and published personal details of thousands of former patients after the company declined to meet pay-off demands.

“To address these challenges, it is very important that governments and law enforcement agencies around the world work together for collective cybersecurity in order to suppress cybercriminals involved in launching attacks on critical infrastructure, medical facilities, vaccine testing centers and spreading fake news, misinformation and disinformation in the midst of COVID-19.

“Netizens (Internet users) should stay careful while trusting websites, mobile apps, and social media posts and only consult authentic sources such as WHO (World Health Organization) and official government websites to get authentic news and updates on COVID-19,” added Khan.

Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN Teams, a cybersecurity solution for businesses from the world’s most advanced VPN (virtual private network) service provider, said: “This may be the most dangerous time to be online and those least informed are in most danger.

“Hackers are exploiting very real fears about the coronavirus through fake emails and scam websites. People are giving up private information and downloading malware without a second thought.”

Some of the most common COVID-19 scams and security incidents have involved emails purporting to come from health authorities and claiming to contain instructions on how to prevent infection. Disguised as PDF, mp4, and docx files, the false instruction guides contain malware used to harvest data and take over infected devices. “That’s the granddaddy of coronavirus scams,” added Markuson.

Fake coronavirus maps have also been circulating. The now-famous Johns Hopkins University black world map with its expanding red dots has become a source of information available to all.

However, hackers used the university’s data to create malware-ridden apps and spread them all over the Internet to unsuspecting users. This resulted in cybercriminals gaining access to phone cameras, microphones, and text messages.

An ecosystem of scam websites also exists with thousands of fraudulent coronavirus websites being launched every day to host phishing scams, distribute malware, or sell non-existent cures and supplements.

Hackers prey on the fact that scared people tend to make irrational decisions and cybercriminals have been using COVID-19 conspiracy theories to grab attention and exploit fear.

By claiming to have a secret cure or new vaccine against COVID-19, they use social engineering to extract confidential data or bait users into downloading malware.


Saudi-backed electric car breaks through 500 miles range barrier

Updated 16 min 57 sec ago

Saudi-backed electric car breaks through 500 miles range barrier

  • Lucid Motors announced independent range verification of 517 miles on a single charge for its forthcoming Lucid Air all-electric sedan

 

LONDON:A Saudi-backed electric vehicle has broken through the 500 mile range barrier from a single charge.
Lucid Motors, in which Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is a major investor, on Wednesday announced independent range verification of 517 miles on a single charge for its forthcoming Lucid Air all-electric sedan.
The results confirm that the Lucid Air is the longest range electric vehicle to date, the car maker said in a statement.
So-called “range anxiety,” where drivers fear being stranded without power in their cars, is a major factor for electric vehicle manufacturers in convincing people to make the switch from traditional gasoline-fueled vehicles.
“Range and efficiency are widely recognized as the most relevant proof points by which EV technical prowess is measured,” said Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson. “A few years ago we revealed our alpha prototypes of the Lucid Air and promised over 400 miles range; a reflection of our technology at that time. In the intervening period we have achieved a series of technological breakthroughs, culminating in an unsurpassed degree of energy efficiency.”
The PIF agreed a $1 billion investment deal with Lucid Motors two years ago to develop the car at a factory in Arizona.
The production version of the Lucid Air will debut in an online event on Sept. 9, 2020. In addition to the vehicle’s final interior and exterior designs, new details about production specifications, available configurations, and pricing information will also be shared.
Customer deliveries of the Lucid Air, which will be produced at Lucid’s new factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, will begin in early 2021.