Cybercriminals have had a field day during the Covid-19 pandemic as millions of people, not savvy in the wily ways of hackers, have been working from home for the first time. Phishing emails, for instance, have spiraled upwards with many using the coronavirus as a hook to scam recipients.
Playing on stresses and anxieties, phishing emails have appeared in inboxes with subject lines such as 'Get a COVID-19 test kit,' 'Lower your debt,' and 'Covid-19 in your area.' Social media platforms have also seen an increased focus from attackers as more people, with more time, and sometimes no more work, increase their time online.
Social media has also become one of the top breeding grounds for pharming schemes. A seemingly innocent trending post on social is forwarded to friends who click on the links. They are directed to bogus websites without their knowledge or consent and if they’re not sharp enough to realize it’s a scam they part with personal information, like payment card data or passwords.
There isn’t a single area of human endeavor that hasn’t been hit by these and other scams; small businesses, consumers, financial services have all been targeted.
Post pandemic predictions
- In early April, as the pandemic was taking grip, half a million Zoom ID credentials were discovered on an underground hacking forum for sale at knock-down prices. It’s more than likely that some of these ID details ended up in the hands of attackers who used them for ID credential stuffing. They understand only too well that many people often use the same ID details and passwords on multiple accounts.
As societies slowly edge towards some kind of normality cybercriminals are taking note and fine-tuning their attacks to ride the zeitgeist.
For instance, as the UK struggles with its test and trace service attackers have been extremely quick off the mark using bogus phone calls, emails, and text messages to pose as members of the NHS test-and-trace service to try to steal money from people. Other online frauds have included the sale of things that don’t actually exist from garden hot tubs to cars. Because of the lockdown rules, victims have taken it as a given that what they thought they bought would be delivered.
An indication of the scale of losses is illustrated by looking at financial services figures. Before Covid-19 hit they were predicting an 8% percent decrease in fraud losses in 2020. Post pandemic fraud loss projections have increased up to 10 to 15%, which is almost a 20% change in annual fraud projections.
Where are the dangers?
- Social engineering has always been a successful attack vector for hackers. Attackers know that employees will now need to communicate with IT and with management remotely as such they can pose as IT support, the company's financial people, or as managers in the company requesting sensitive company information.
- Software manufacturers are rushing out new update releases or new software versions in an attempt to respond to businesses needing remote operational capabilities. However, there may be overlooked security issues that emerge from this. The same applies to current software. If security updates are rushed without proper testing, systems may be even more vulnerable when company devices are updated.
- Attackers will continue to focus on video-conferencing, even after lockdowns ease. The next three months will see the heavy use of video-conferencing and collaboration applications. The use of video applications has now crossed a generational divide, although applications such as TikTok and Snapchat may still be largely limited to certain demographics. As companies continue to rely on video conferencing tools, and as employees connect to company servers using unsecured devices, cyberattacks will continue to be an issue.
- Though it never really went away, ransomware has seen a resurgence in the last year. This will likely continue, driven by reduced economic activity, increasing crime rates, and technical vulnerabilities from a workforce returning to the office.
- Healthcare organisations, particularly in the US, have been a top target for attackers and ransomware over the past few years. This will likely continue post-pandemic but targets will probably widen to include supply chains, online retail, leisure, and small businesses as attackers seek to exploit the fact that for many businesses attention will be elsewhere as they seek to return to some level of normality.
Post pandemic exit strategies are being unveiled across the world as economic pressures demand action. It is unlikely that the world will return to full normality quickly and some aspects will likely be changed forever. For instance, necessity has overridden some of the previous resistance to stopping face to face meetings or the lack of trust often placed in remote workers over office-based staff. As a result, there will be much greater acceptance and use of remote working.
Amid this activity, cybercriminals are banking on many organisations overlooking what might be called discretionary spend on cybersecurity. They are seeking to exploit this just as they exploited the global surge towards remote working.
Cybersecurity vigilance needs to be maintained even as other matters demand attention. Cybercriminals aren't going away and even a seemingly innocuous email could wreak a lot of damage if it hides malware.
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