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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

ACSC issues warning around coronavirus-themed malicious cyber activity

Acting head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre has said cyber criminals are being very opportunistic, with an increase in malicious activity in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has issued a new threat update, seeking to raise awareness around coronavirus-themed malicious cyber activity. 

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"Cyber criminals are very opportunistic and we are seeing an increased targeting of Australians through COVID-19 themed malicious activities," acting head of the ACSC Karl Hanmore said.

The ACSC's advice says COVID-19 related scams and phishing emails are likely to increase in frequency and severity over the coming weeks and months, due, in part, to the ease in which existing scam emails and texts can be modified with a COVID-19 theme.

"We're seeing some upticks in the COVID space, it's most likely the same cybercriminals just trying to go about their normal day job of stealing from us all," Hanmore said, speaking on ABC Radio on Friday morning.

"They're coalescing under COVID-19 as the one thing they know we're all interested in right now."

Since early March 2020, there has been a significant increase in COVID-19 themed malicious cyber activity across Australia, the ACSC said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Scamwatch has received more than 100 reports of scams about COVID-19 in the last three months.

ACSC said between March 10 and 26, it received over 45 cybercrime and cybersecurity incident reports from individuals and businesses, all related to COVID-19 themed scam and phishing activity.

However, the true extent of this malicious activity is likely to be much higher, as these numbers only represent those cases reported to the ACSC and ACCC.

Reported scams have included those pretending to be Australia Post, international health organisations, and programs offering financial assistance.

The Australian government on Wednesday began its text message campaign, telling nearly 36 million mobile numbers how to navigate the health of individuals and the broader community.

"As the spread of the coronavirus increases, it's vital every Australian understands the practical action they must take to look after themselves and help us protect those most at risk," a statement from Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, and Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said.

The government said it would continue to use text messages as one of its communication methods.

Hanmore's message is that Australians should be alert to scams based around COVID-19 and avoid being lured into clicking on any links or attachments in emails or messaging apps.

"A key concern for the Australian Cyber Security Centre is cyber criminals looking to prey on businesses as they transition to an increasingly remote workforce," he added.

"Now is a good time for businesses to be more aggressive in blocking potentially malicious emails and websites from their network gateway. Now more than ever, it is critical that businesses have their software patched and up to date."

Looking at cybercrime activity more broadly, Hanmore said the ACSC is experiencing people self-reporting about 145 cybercrime incidents a day, with self-reported losses just under AU$1 million a day.

Esri Australia COVID-19 Map

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University earlier this year launched an online dashboard that is tracking the spread of COVID-19.

The live dashboard pulls data from the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the likes of the centres for disease control and prevention from the United States, Europe, and China.

It shows all confirmed and suspected cases of coronavirus, along with recovered patients and deaths. The data is visualised through a real-time graphic information system (GIS) powered by Esri.

To help closely monitor the situation in Australia, Esri has developed a local version, which includes national and state statistics on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths, recoveries and tests, as well as charts showing the timeline of confirmed cases over time.

esri-australia-covid-19-map.png

Esri Australia COVID-19 Map at time of publication

Screenshots: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

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