The World Health Organization sounded the alarm on the COVID-19 outbreak in the second month of 2020, an event that has spiraled the public into panic and caught the attention of shrewd cybercriminals. Pursuit to the announcement, an advisory warning followed thereafter concerning the eruption of scams looking out to exploit public fear and uncertainty across the world.
A UK agency made an announcement to this effect and informed the public that cybercriminals were taking advantage of the current situation to launch online attacks – including the spread of fake emails purporting to disseminate official health information and updates, which then direct oblivious users to harmful malware.
In the international scene, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been impersonated by cybercriminals. These crooks create online domains that appear similar to the genuine websites belonging to bona fide organizations like the WHO and CDC. This ploy aims to dupe users through email requests for passwords and even crypto donations to finance a fake vaccine.
In addition, the global distribution channels have been affected by these cybercrooks that are out to steal documents and encrypt computer systems to hold targets at ransom.
Coronavirus-Related Darknet Threats
Another interesting angle to the coronavirus pandemic is the eruption of online threats within dark web spaces.
Importantly, cybercriminals have ruled the darknet marketplaces where drugs and weapon listings have accompanies adverts for coronavirus masks and public health-related equipment.
According to a threat analysis report by a cybersecurity firm, threat actors are propagating malware under the guise of a “coronavirus map” with the intention of illegally harvesting personal information from online users – including people’s passwords, usernames and banking information obtained from websites. These sets of information are then distributed via darknet and sold to interested buyers.
Malicious Coronavirus Map
Cybercriminals have created websites that advertise coronavirus information and updates to lure users into clicking and downloading applications related to the current situation. Such websites appear genuine, complete with a map of global infection patterns to simulate the spread of COVID-19.
Once a user falls for this trap, they become exposed to a malicious file that installs itself in target users’ devices. Then, the malware activates an information stealer software, called AZORult that harvests the information sought by cybercriminals.
As it stands, experts believe that the spread of malware and other variants will increase with the current trend of coronavirus-related infections and panic worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the shortage of sanitation equipment worldwide. Items such as surgical face masks and sanitizing agents have run out of stock in major outlets around the globe. Similarly, apart from the brick and mortar establishments, online marketplaces have witnessed a surge in prices in all healthcare equipment associated with the control of the coronavirus outbreak.
Indeed, it can be inferred that this shortage of supplies and the associated rise in prices has been begotten by the spread of misinformation. Case in point, the WHO provides that surgical face masks are only needed in times of patient care – when medical personnel are caring for COVID-19 patients. This reality is far from what much of the public believes, that masks can help prevent healthy people from catching the virus.
Hitherto, China has been a world leader in global medical face mask supply, producing about 80% of all face masks used across the globe. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, production and export scales have tipped, leading to sever limitations that have affected manufacturers beyond mainland China and creating a market for fake goods and fraudulent online listings.
The surgical face mask listings have cropped up within the surface and hidden web, with the establishment of hundreds of fake websites that advertise coronavirus face masks and pills. At this point, even if some of the advertised goods are legitimate, there is no certainty that the products even exist in the first place.