COVID-19 is a breeding ground for new phishing variants


Cyber ​​criminals have been following the evolution of the COVID-19 virus with suspicion since the start of the pandemic. However, their increased concern and interest around the virus does not stem from fear of their own health, but from the ‘professional’ opportunities that the coronavirus offers them. And then phishing is a popular method.

Identity provider research Itsme it appears that 8% of Belgians have already been victims of phishing emails. And they respond to the corona virus. A Febelfin study has also shown that as many as 1 in five phishing emails that end up in everyone’s mailbox these days are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of emails containing links to the coronavirus is said to have increased by no less than 600% in the first quarter of 2020 (research KnowBe4).

Working from home was / is – both in the spring and now – one of the most important corona measures taken by the government. The boundary between work and private life is blurring – for example, many surf from work with their laptop to websites for private purposes. Or vice versa, they worked on the family laptop. That made it much easier for a hacker to obtain company information or to infiltrate a company network unseen. Cyber ​​criminals try to retrieve the necessary credentials, especially through phishing. This has not only led to a growth in the number of phishing attacks, but also to a strong increase in phishing variants such as phishing, spear phishing in vishing.

But what are these threats? How can your employees recognize these quickly and ensure that they form a strong first line in the defense of their organization?

This is the practice involving hackers a lot send fake emails claiming to be from reputable companies or their own organization. The e-mails ask the recipients to share personal or company information, such as passwords, credit card numbers or company information. You have variants with a malicious link in the email. If you click on it, you will be taken to a compromised website or download malware. This technique is also spread through messaging apps and text messages (smishing).

One of the trends is the exponential growth of spear phishing (on company email addresses). The hacker sends a targeted e-mail to specific people within an organization. The objectives are the same as with phishing. Experts explain this increase because staff no longer work in an office environment where it is easier for them to talk to a colleague to validate an application, for example. When employees work from home and receive a targeted and urgent request, they often don’t know what to do. They are more likely to feel compelled to comply with the emailed request.

Vishing uses voice or data apps, combined with a phishing attack. In the rush to get their people to work from home during the lockdown, many organizations may have released the personal phone numbers of their employees. In some cases, companies use recorded messages that tell the caller where and how to reach employees – even through the telephone numbers provided. For a hacker, this is the promised land. After all, they get people’s direct phone numbers, and in some cases, the hackers also get their regular work patterns. All of this can be used in a direct contact. In addition, using apps such as WhatsApp, attackers can create fake accounts that look genuine because the contact information was provided to them by your company. They can then send you requests that look very official but have little or no way to verify them for authenticity.

Telecommuting has an even greater chance of trapping ambitious employees who are eager to impress their executives. For example, they can use information from social media to impersonate one of the managers of a company and then ask employees to make payments to certain accounts or share specific information. Especially in this corona period, team members can be under pressure and complete one time-critical task after another, completely ignoring the alarms that indicate a fraudulent email.

Don’t just ignore it

Employees should certainly not let themselves be fooled in the midst of the corona virus. Companies, on the other hand, must encourage their employees to trust their gut. If something doesn’t feel right – a login process that asks for too much information, or an email address that doesn’t look 100% as expected – employees should simply leave the site or close the email immediately. That awareness is an important first step. But employees should not only recognize those emails they don’t expect, but report them to their IT team.

Preferably even further than just colleagues. Many organizations have a specific email address to forward those phishing emails. Especially in the financial world, which is a popular target for hackers and where customers can lose a lot of money through phishing. But you can also report this to the government or the police. Just think of the CERT. Unfortunately this is a rather reactive method. Where it usually stops when filling in a form. While that information from the reports can be an absolute added value for the security companies. If those government organizations could proactively share that information with the sector, not only would the security tools improve, but larger networks could be mapped out, so that cyber criminals could be hunted down.

Make and stay alert

You can protect your employees from greater disaster with a number of simple tips. Many spelling and grammar errors in the e-mail – although this has already been greatly improved – often indicate fraudulent e-mails. Contests and incredible perks can also be a clue. Also, don’t be fooled by the so-called name of the sender. Double check the real email address.

Every company should be required to train its employees in the basics of cybersecurity. Raising their awareness is the most effective security measure that will keep them from clicking on a link in an email that they may find suspicious and – if they accidentally give their password or personal information to fraudsters – they know they have their passwords. change as soon as possible.

The pandemic will rule our (business) life for some time to come. So organizations will continue to encourage their employees to work from home to ensure business continuity. That is why it is important to keep your employees alert and make them aware of the dangers, without immediately sowing fear. Take some extra time to check trusted sources and continue to take the same precautions you would in a regular office environment. The office where the coffee is. And that’s home today.

Author: Rudolf de Schipper, Delivery Lead Belgium & International Institutions at Unisys.

This article was written by one of our partners. Our editorial team is not responsible for the content.


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