Cybercriminals and scammers are exploiting COVID-19 for gain

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While it’s admirable to keep up with news regarding COVID-19, one has to exercise a degree of caution.

That’s not just because the virus is rapidly spreading through the world, but because cybercriminals are exploiting the situation.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been several instances of malware parading as legitimate sources for COVID-19 news. Google and Apple have placed restrictions on apps related to COVID-19, but much like life, cybercriminals find a way.

“Any time the public’s interest becomes fixated on a topic, scammers, spammers and malware authors latch on to the news and are determined to find a way to exploit the opportunity,” explains principal research scientist at Sophos, Chester Wisniewski.

The scientist says that “almost all” types of malicious activity currently being observed by Sophos is taking advantage of the COVID-19 news.

“There are limitless quantities of spams pitching expensive guaranteed Corona-proof masks, videos on how to construct your bunker and other “guides” to keeping your business or family safe. We have also seen common email-borne malware families like Fareit and Trickbot sending Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) themed malicious emails,” says Wisniewski.

One scam calls for donations to be made to the WHO by way of a Bitcoin wallet address. The email contains the WHO logo and looks legit but of course, it’s a scam.

An example of a scam email seen by Sophos.

For those who are looking to make donations it’s best to head directly to the WHO for information or this dedicated website where WHO is accepting donations from around the world to assist countries who are struggling to contain COVID-19.

Unfortunately scammers are rife during times of crisis and fear so it’s best to donate directly to reputable organisations.


Of course, scams are not the only threat to be aware of. A report by DomainTools details Android ransomware known as CovidLock.

The app parades as a map tracking the COVID-19 pandemic. The trouble is that the app is downloaded from a website rather than the official Google Play Store.

“This Android ransomware application, previously unseen in the wild, has been titled ‘CovidLock’ because of the malware’s capabilities and its background story. CovidLock uses techniques to deny the victim access to their phone by forcing a change in the password used to unlock the phone. This is also known as a screen-lock attack and has been seen before on Android ransomware,” explains senior security engineer at DomainTools, Tarik Saleh.

The ransom demanded is $100 in Bitcoin (0.019BTC) with a call to pay in 48 hours and a threat that your phone will be wiped and your social media accounts leaked publicly.

Here the best advice is to only download software from a reputable source, especially for your smartphone. If you can’t get an app through the Google Play Store, there is likely a good reason for that.

We have also compiled a number of reputable digital resources you can use to track COVID-19, without having to risk downloading malware.

Phishing for targets

With many of us now working from home, we must once again bring up the issue of phishing.

The reason for this is that criminals can, and will, exploit the fact that employees are looking for updates from higher-ups regarding COVID-19 related developments at work.

In a report by Ars Technica, Kaspersky Lab reveals that a phishing scam is currently doing the rounds.

This scam promises to provide safety measures to avoid infection via a website. When that website is visited users are asked to share personal information which will likely be used for future scams.

Should you receive an email from your boss or an organisation claiming to assist with COVID-19 news, be skeptical.

Contact that boss directly and verify the email. Hover over links to see where they go and above all, remain wary of scammers parading as charities.

The sad reality is that ne’er-do-wells exploit times such as this and make life difficult for folks who are already having a hard time.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.