Cyber criminals are preying on anxieties around the coronavirus outbreak in an effort to maximise the impact of their attacks – with some operations intensifying ransomware and DDoS attacks at a time when remote access to computer networks and online services is more vital than ever.
A new paper from Europol – based on contributions from European Union member states and partners – examines how cyber criminals have reacted and evolved since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they're seeking to exploit vulnerabilities that have emerged.
It warns that crooks are stepping up ransomware attacks, even in a time of international crisis.
"The types of criminals exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic online were also active in the area of cybercrime before. However, some are believed to have intensified their activities and are actively recruiting collaborators to maximise the impact of their attacks or schemes," says the report.
Last 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.
"The pandemic may multiply the damaging impact of a successful attack against certain institutions, which reinforces the necessity for effective cyber resilience," warns the report.
The Europol report also notes there's been a slight increase in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks following the outbreak of the coronavirus – and that these attacks, which overload online services with excess traffic, will increase in the near future.
Like ransomware attacks, the aim of DDoS attackers is disruption; and with more people working remotely than ever before and all requiring access to virtual corporate networks, sustaining access is vital to the day-to-day operations of businesses.
This is providing cruel DDoS attackers with an opportunity to run extortion campaigns against organisations and critical services, during which they can threaten to take out online services by overrunning them with traffic from botnets unless a payment is made.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns around DDoS attacks is that they're relatively easy to carry out, even for low-level attackers; Europol describes DDoS as "an accessible type of crime with limited barriers to entry because it is cheap and readily available".
"This pandemic brings out the best but unfortunately also the worst in humanity. With a huge number of people teleworking from home, often with outdated security systems, cyber criminals prey on the opportunity to take advantage of this surreal situation and focus even more on cyber-criminal activities," said Catherine De Bolle, executive director of Europol.
To help protect people from attacks, European Union cybersecurity agency ENISA has issued tips for remote workers on how to stay safe from cyberattacks and hacking.
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