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

Australia on the cyber offence to bring down COVID-19 scammers

Cracking down on offshore cyber criminals who are targeting Australian households and businesses through devious scams and attacks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia on the cyber offence to bring down COVID-19 scammers

Australia has launched a cyber offence against offshore criminals, targeting those responsible for scams related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said in a statement that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) had mobilised its offensive cyber capabilities to disrupt the foreign cyber criminals behind the spate of malicious activities that have come out of the global pandemic.

"Cyber criminals that are using the cover of cyberspace and international borders to target Australians are not beyond our reach," Reynolds said.

"We are hitting back through the Australian Signals Directorate, who have already successfully disrupted activities from foreign criminals by disabling their infrastructure and blocking their access to stolen information."

The ASD has engaged telecommunications firms to block and take down websites identified as malicious.

The ASD's Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) is also working with Google and Microsoft to have the websites flagged as malicious, as a way of ensuring users are warned about such sites before they visit them.

With the ACSC already issuing multiple threat alerts and offering advice for businesses and individuals, ASD director-general Rachel Noble said cyber criminals are expected to continue to target Australians through COVID-19 themed malicious activities.

"Our offensive cyber campaign has only just begun and we will continue to strike back at these cyber criminals operating offshore as they attempt to steal money and data from Australians," Noble said.

"Close cooperation with telecommunications and IT companies is vital in providing increased protective barriers for Australians from these heartless cyber criminals."

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

Between March 10 and 26, the ACSC received more than 45 cybercrime and cybersecurity incident reports from individuals and businesses. All 45 cases were linked to COVID-19 themed scams and phishing activity.

"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 previously.

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

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