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COVID-19: Not just the virus, watch out for fake news and Cyberattacks too

 Published: March 10, 2020  Created: March 9, 2020

By Swathi Moorthy

It is not just coronavirus that people have to brace against these days but also the plethora of fake news that has mushroomed since the COVID-19 outbreak. “The attacks will only increase and become more sophisticated in the coming days,” said J Kesavardhanan, Founder, K7 Computing, an endpoint security service provider. Latest reports peg confirmed cases of the virus at about 111,420 with over 3,883 deaths across the world. India so far has 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

What is interesting is that since the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of cyberattacks in the form of phishing and malware attacks have also spiked. According to a report by Check Point Threat Intelligence 2020, there are over 4,000 coronavirus-related domains registered globally and 3 percent of them are malicious. According to the report, close to 50 percent of the coronavirus sites are more malicious than other domains registered during the same period.

Phishing is a cyberattack that uses emails to get sensitive information such as your bank accounts details. As the virus outbreak continues, the attacks are expected to become more sophisticated and personalised, said experts.

Kesavardhanan explained that the phishing emails will be more customised and it would be difficult for people to differentiate. For instance, a phishing email you get could bear the details of your close friend or a relative tempting you to open it and putting you at risk.

“Right now, security is not the primary concern. People have let their guard down and are bound to look at any mail or message that has coronavirus as a theme,” he said.

Even for the cautious ones, any mails on coronavirus becomes relevant. So there is no better time to profit than now for cybercriminals.

Chester Wisniewski, Principal Research Scientist, Sophos, an IT security firm, said in a statement that while these attacks are largely confined to the most affected areas such as Italy, it will spread to other countries where there are increasing concerns of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We are monitoring the situation continuously, especially India, to see what is happening here,” Kesavarthanan said.

Unfortunately, there is not much to be done at this point. Most of the sophisticated endpoint security products are designed to catch malicious content. “But we cannot place too many restrictions, say block anything related to Coronavirus. This would mean even missing important mails given companies sending emails to employees on the topic, events being cancelled,” another security professional added.

Wisniewski explained in the statement, “The best approach to avoid this type of cyber attack is to turn off macros, be extra cautious about what you click, and delete an email that is suspicious or from an unexpected source.”

Fake news

The nervousness surrounding COVID-19 has made people extra vulnerable and ready to go to any extent to seek immunity against the disease. The common man is easily getting tricked into believing false medications such as eating garlic to buying expensive “cures” online.

According to reports, Amazon removed close to five lakh products for overpricing while a Forbes report suggested the e-commerce giant removed one million fake and unsafe products claiming to cure COVID-19.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too are taking steps to control the spread of fake news. Any search on coronavirus is being directed to WHO or local health authorities. Misinformation and conspiracy theories flagged by credible sources are being taken down and any ads that claim to cure COVID-19 are being blocked.

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