Coronavirus and home working: Cyber criminals shift focus to target remote workers

Hackers will look to exploit the increase in remote working - and healthcare facilities could be targeted with cyberattacks, warns police agency.
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

Criminals are only just getting started when it comes to exploiting the global spread of coronavirus to profit from hacking and cybercrime, and the number of attacks is likely to rise, Europe's law enforcement agency Europol has warned.

The new report on how criminals profit from the COVID-19 pandemic details the increase in coronavirus-themed attacks, including phishing emails and spam campaigns designed to trick people into giving up sensitive personal information or banking details – and warns that cyber criminals will only get busier.

"The number of cyberattacks is significant and expected to increase further. Cyber criminals will continue to innovate in the deployment of various malware and ransomware packages themed around the COVID-19 pandemic," said the report.

Europol's paper also warns that cyber-criminal groups will step up attacks against critical health infrastructure as a means of attempting to generate profit from hospitals and medical research facilities at a time when they're needed most.

SEE: Cybersecurity: Let's get tactical (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Earlier this month, a Czech hospital serving as a COVID-19 testing centre was hit with a cyberattack in in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, forcing some services to be temporarily shut down.

"These types of attack during a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic are particularly threatening and carry very real risks to human lives," said the Europol report.

There's also the prospect that cyber criminals will increasingly look to exploit social distancing and the growth in remote working for their own gain, taking advantage of how employees might not be used to working from home to help conduct phishing and malware attacks to help gain access to critical business information.

"Cyber criminals are likely to seek to exploit an increasing number of attack vectors as a greater number of employers adopt telework and allow connections to their organisations' systems," the report warned.

"Criminals have quickly seized the opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modes of operation or developing new criminal activities. Organised crime groups are notoriously flexible and adaptable, and their capacity to exploit this crisis means we need to be constantly vigilant and prepared," said Catherine De Bolle, executive director of Europol.

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"Crime is a seriously disrupting factor and a diversion from national and EU efforts to ensure the health and safety of citizens. That is why it is relevant to reinforce the fight against crime," she added.

European Union cybersecurity agency ENISA has issued tips for remote workers on how to stay safe from cyberattacks and hacking when working outside of the office environment during coronavirus-enforced social distancing and lockdown.


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