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.


King Salman: G20 provided $11 trillion to overcome effects of COVID-19 pandemic under Saudi Arabia’s presidency

Updated 27 October 2020

King Salman: G20 provided $11 trillion to overcome effects of COVID-19 pandemic under Saudi Arabia’s presidency

  • King Salman said the Kingdom’s G20 presidency was keen to listen to various recommendations through ministerial meetings and working groups of G20

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency has contributed about $11 trillion to protect the global economy with a clear commitment and determination to do “whatever is necessary” to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
In a speech read in behalf of King Salman during the handover the final communique of B20 Summit, investment minister Khalid Al-Falih said the Kingdom’s G20 presidency also pledged $21 billion to support the production, distribution, and availability of diagnostic and treatment tools, medicines and vaccines, a report from state news agency SPA said.
King Salman likewise said the Kingdom’s G20 presidency was keen to listen to various recommendations through ministerial meetings and working groups of G20, the report added.
“I would like to thank Business Group 20 and its partners from all countries of the world for their efforts during this exceptional period,” according to King Salman, adding that the goal of the Kingdom’s presidency of G20 is to “seize the opportunities of twenty-first century for all.”
“We cannot talk about “shaping new frontiers” in the G20 without discussing innovative solutions that contribute to developing the financial infrastructure, improving of the global trade systems, protecting of the private sector, restoring capital flows to emerging markets, and harnessing the digital economy tools that help us reach the desired financial inclusion during various circumstances,” King Salman said.
King Salman’s speech likewise lauded the “resilience and strength of the Saudi economy” amid the coronavirus pandemic and reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment to “increasing growth and prosperity levels through empowerment and investments in new sectors; especially the sectors that will lead the global recovery and protect countries from future pandemics.”