Experts see over 600 percent spike in malicious emails during coronavirus crisis

Green Security Eye ScanMalicious emails that used coronavirus information to target individuals spiked over the past month as the crisis ramped up, according to a report from cyber threat researchers at Barracuda Networks released Thursday.

The researchers saw a 667 percent increase in malicious phishing emails that were using the coronavirus. These types of emails try to lure individuals to click on dangerous links or download attachments that typically include computer viruses.

Barracuda Networks tracked almost 10,0000 attempted phishing email cyberattacks linked to the coronavirus crisis since the beginning of March, while by comparison the researchers only saw about 1,800 in February and even fewer in January.

“Although the overall number of these attacks is still low compared to other threats, the threat is growing quickly,” the researchers wrote.

They cautioned that hackers were “taking advantage of the heightened focus on COVID-19 to distribute malware, steal credentials, and scam users out of money. The attacks use common phishing tactics that are seen regularly, however a growing number of campaigns are using the coronavirus as a lure to try to trick distracted users [and] capitalize on the fear and uncertainty of their intended victims.”

The majority of the emails studied by the researchers were classified as scams, while about a third were brand impersonation emails, and 11 percent were blackmail attacks.

The researchers warned that as the coronavirus crisis continues, they expect hackers to grow increasingly “sophisticated” at using coronavirus to lure individuals.

The findings by the researchers were released a week after the FBI put out an alert warning Americans to be wary of suspicious emails, such as those claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or those asking for sensitive information in exchange for coronavirus stimulus checks from the government.

The FBI recommended that Americans conduct research prior to clicking on or responding to a suspicious email, before donating to a charity through social media and before purchasing products online.

“Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both,” the FBI warned. “Don’t let them.”

Hackers have increasingly been observed to be taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to target Americans.

Reuters reported earlier this week that the World Health Organization had suffered an unsuccessful cyberattack and was seeing a spike in attempted attacks, while the Department of Health and Human Services was also attacked by hackers earlier this month.

Source: The Hill, “Experts see over 600 percent spike in malicious emails during coronavirus crisis” website. Accessed April 9, 2020.

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