How Coronavirus (COVID-19) is Fueling Online Scams
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
Protecting personal health is just as important as protecting your digital presence. Countries are under the strain of a global pandemic of Coronavirus called COVID-19.
The virus which began spreading in December has spread rapidly to other regions of the world, forcing countries to observe shutdowns that have affected everyday life. What should have been a time of social isolation and the collective efforts of everyone on the planet to curb the virus has turned into an opportunity to benefit from the panic.
We’ll take this opportunity to inform you not just about Coronavirus but also the scams that have appeared online. It’s important that you read through because the scams prey on your urgency to stay updated on this global pandemic.
A Brief Introduction to Coronavirus
At a time like this, we believe it’s important that a little education on the virus and how we can prevent it can be very helpful.
Contrary to popular belief, Coronavirus is not the name of the ongoing pandemic. Coronavirus describes a whole family of diseases, the most recent one of which has been named COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). It is a zoonotic virus which means it can spread between animals and humans. The first reported incident of COVID-19 was back in December 2019 from the Hubei province in China.
The origin of the virus is not clear but it’s believed to be bats.
COVID-19 spreads through contact with other people who have been infected. If an infected person sneezes in close proximity to you, the droplets could enter through respiration. It can also be transmitted by touching your face after contacting an object that’s infected.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include respiratory problems such as shortness of breath, severe coughing, and fever. Here are some precautions you can take to prevent infection:
- Avoid public places
- Don’t go out unnecessarily
- Avoid handshakes
- Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap for at least 20 seconds or clean your hands with hand-sanitizer that contains alcohol
- Always cover your sneeze and cough with a tissue paper, and throw away the tissue paper after.
- If you sneeze or cough on your hands wash them immediately
How It’s Affecting Online Security
It’s unfortunate that online scams have only taken a turn for the worse even during such times of crisis. Hackers have engineered various scams that target people by taking advantage of the mass panic.
Malware stands for Malicious Software. Its sole purpose is to infect and damage your system. Malware can only infect your system if you allow them because much like the biological agents in nature, malware spreads without your knowledge.
Hackers target people’s lack of awareness about scams. The result is that new scams have popped up in recent events. In fact, according to a report, as much as 4000+ domains related to Coronavirus have been bought since January 2020.
For example, a reported Android app that has been given the name “CovidLock” is claiming to give users real-time statistics and a heat map of the outbreak. The malicious website lets you download the malicious app to your Android smartphone. Following the launch of the app and it receiving certain user-permissions, the app will lock you out to the phone. Your phone will remain locked and encrypted until you pay $100 in Bitcoin.
Another example of a phishing scam is tricking users into visiting malicious links. Emails are going out impersonating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that claim to contain up-to-date information about the virus. The email contains a link that appears to be cdc.gov domain but is masked. The link actually takes you to a different domain the attacker has bought and setup.
The webpage following your click is a login page forged to make you think you have been logged out of your account. The login fields are proxies for the attacker. Once you enter and hit enter, the credentials will get stolen. In another attempt, the emails for Bitcoin payment to fund Coronavirus vaccine research is asking for donations for the cause.
You may also come across links on social media that appear to be announcements from health organizations or a PDF that appears to contain helpful information to prevent infection. Avoid clicking on such links that may be engineered to look authentic. Instead, visit CDC or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) official website for news.
All such attempts are convincing enough that the average person may not notice the subtle differences, such as different domain name in the email address header.
The Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) has issued an alert over the rise in online phishing scams related to Coronavirus, and is urging consumers to take precautions on accepting emails, clicking on links, or installing apps from unknown sources.
We urge you to take every step necessary to prevent any loss of data or damage to your system. Invest in a reliable Anti-Virus program that is capable of detecting and eliminating various high-level malware. And you must absolutely avoid clicking on links from unknown sources.
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