Security officials warn of increase in malware attacks linked to virus

Cyber criminals and hacking groups are exploiting disruption caused by the coronavirus through a range of phishing and malware attacks which are likely to proliferate as the outbreak intensifies, UK security officials have warned.

Experts from the National Cyber Security Centre, a branch of the signals intelligence agency GCHQ, said web users are in danger of losing money and sensitive data if they’re tricked into clicking on links in bogus emails claiming to contain important information about the pandemic.

Examples so far include cyber scams by groups impersonating the World Health Organization and the US Centre for Disease Control, fraudulent websites advertising antiviral equipment which turns out to be fake, and attackers seeking bitcoin funding which they claim is for vaccine research. The warning comes after the government said last week it had set up a dedicated unit to combat malicious coronavirus disinformation campaigns by hostile states or cyber criminals, and confirmed it is working with social media companies to refute false or misleading claims about the disease. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are working with the NHS to elevate official government sites to the top of search results relating to the virus.

While the NCSC is focused on cyber criminals looking to exploit the crisis for financial gain, others have suggested hostile states could be taking advantage of the confusion. US state department official Lea Gabrielle told Congress that Russia was responsible for “swarms of online, false personas” that sought to spread misinformation about the disease on social media sites. She said the “entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation is at play” in attempts to capitalise on uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Paul Chichester, director of operations at the UK’s NCSC, said that opportunistic cyber criminals were “undoubtedly” making the most of the coronavirus outbreak for personal gain. Read More


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