Coronavirus: A cyber threat

By Atul Periwal.

The outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) has halted the entire world for months and it’s not ended yet. In this pandemic as the figure of infected people is rising due to a virus, simultaneously cybercrime threats are increasing at a rapid rate. It is pointless to mention, there are thousands of examples showing how hackers are taking the advantage of current situation and exploiting people. According to statistics, it shows that the average amount of time spent on the internet has increased by 2 hours after many countries around the globe have imposed the lockdown. Not only that but work culture has also changed in this pandemic, people used to work in their firms but now they have started working from home due to which cyber threat has increased rapidly.

During the outbreak, the most serious cybercrimes that are identified include phishing, ransomware, fake news, etc. Criminals have started using innovative techniques to harm people such as creating a fake advertisement for goods and services that is not available easily or not available in discounted rates or using fake challenges that are posted on social media. Due to their selfish nature, people get excited and end up in problems.

According to statistics, cyber threat has increased by more than 500 % as compared to last year’s. According to the FBI, cybercrime occurrences seem to have jumped by as much as 300 % since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. UK’s National Cyber Security Centre had reported that coronavirus-related fraud and scams rased by 400 % in March, indicating that this is due to the rapid move to remote work. Recently, the office’s Internet Crime Complain Centre (IC3) said it receives around 3,000 and 4,000 reports a day.  To better appreciate COVID-19’s effect on customers, 9,215 adults in the United States, Canada, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom where surveyed in the week of April 13. The result stated that approximately 3 out of 10 respondents (29%) said they were targeted by COVID-19-related cyber fraud, with Millennia’s (those between 26 and 40 years of age) being the most affected at 34%. Besides, consumers who say that their household income is being negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to experience digital fraud with 32 % reporting being targeted by online COVID-19 scams compared to 22 % of people who are not financially affected.

Popular cybercrimes during this Pandemic

  1. Phishing

Phishing is a malicious effort to acquire personal information or data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by disguising yourself in an online message as a trusted person. According to statistics, phishing has increased by more than 600% in the pandemic time.

According to Computer Misuse Act 1990 (in police and justice act) and Fraud Act 2006 in the UK, it states that if phishing and another form of cybercrimes take place, the attacker has to pay compensation to the victim and up to 10 years of imprisonment. The Anti-Phishing Act of 2004 and the Anti-Phishing Act of 2005 would impose more stringent penalties on those convicted of phishing.

Examples of phishing crime taking place during the pandemic:- Netflix and Amazon Prime fraud states that you get a free subscription. Users have to add their bank details on these movies and series streaming apps but are unaware of the background process that’s taking place.

Typical phishing or smishing message.

2. Malware/Ransomware

Software primarily designed to disrupt, damage or gain unauthorized access to your computer network. That software can be ransomware, viruses, Trojan horse, worm, spyware, adware, etc. COVID-19 is used in several malicious campaigns including spam mail, BEC, malware, ransomware, and malicious domains. While the number of those infected continues to grow by thousands, promotions often increase that use the disease as a lure. According to the statistics, the ransomware attack has been spiked by 148% in this pandemic. 

The attacker took advantage of COVID-19 and created a lot of ransomware namely being COVID-19 Tracker among the few.Once the system is attacked by the ransomware, the attacker asks for a ransom of $100 in bitcoins within 48 hours and failing to do so while result in loss of personal data and information and shared on the social media platform. Another malware called AZOrult was found to be concealed inside a downloadable program for monitoring Coronavirus. It is a Trojan horse and aims at stealing usernames, passwords, and other sensitive data.

3. Fake news

Fake news is a problem not for months but years and its increasing gradually in this pandemic. Attackers are taking advantage of the current situation and bringing out false information and sharing that information on social media. Posting information on social media is easy but controlling them is very difficult. One of the fake news that came out stated that WHO requires funds for COVID-19 and donate in bitcoins. When investigation took place for this news it came out that WHO doesn’t have any bitcoin account. It’s not only fake news but also a scam. The attacker uses to send the link in message and opening that link will display the exact copy of WHO’s website and will ask for a donation which goes to the attacker.

Using current events to scam


These days about COVID-19 a multitude of scams and phishing campaigns are being carried out to target the general public at massive scale. It is important as an end-user to be aware of any potential attack. It is a fact that false information spread faster than the virus. During this pandemic, we are not only fighting against COVID-19 but also against an infodemic. Individuals and organizations need to take care of security and should take steps to protect against threats. We shouldn’t open malicious sites, links, software, etc. It is important to know why attackers ask ransom in bitcoins because tracing is very difficult and if the attackers exchanges Bitcoin into Dogecoin or Litecoin and then exchange back to bitcoins which would screw everything up making it untraceable. So please be careful while you are in a digital world especially during this period. Till then stay home, stay safe, and be careful from both viruses, one which enters your body and the other which enters your digital world