Coronavirus and cybercrime

Alicia Richon Covid

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, a sense of panic has spread through the population and the daily lives of many people have changed beyond recognition. Targeted measures are being taken to deal with new types of threats that have emerged during this period. This gives some individuals the perfect opportunity to prey on the most vulnerable, in person or online.

Philippe Vuilleumier, Head of Security at Swisscom, is warning the public about the huge increase in cybersecurity breaches that have occurred in recent weeks.

The media has been full of reports about the huge upswing in online crime triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Is this something you have seen at Swisscom?

We are aware of an increase in phishing activity and malware attacks at present. These involve e-mails purporting to come from WHO or other representatives of the pharma industry. These e-mails appear to be genuine but in fact conceal malware. The increase in working from home also facilitates this sort of behaviour as it makes IT systems more vulnerable to external attacks. When the lockdown was announced in March, many businesses rushed to find a solution to enable employees to work from home, which may have weakened their IT systems and made them more vulnerable.

You will have undoubtedly seen this well-known world map from the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which demonstrates the spread of the coronavirus across the planet, with specific data for each country. There are fake versions of this map which conceal malware. Social networks and WhatsApp are also filled with “fake news” and disinformation about the virus, not only about its origins but also promoting miracle cures (such as using bleach or drinking tea to kill the virus). This is clearly extremely dangerous. Conspiracy theories are also rife on the Internet… At present in Europe, the 5G infrastructure is being violently attacked and destroyed as a result of false allegations of a link between COVID19 and 5G technology.

How have Internet scammers taken advantage of the coronavirus crisis?

There is a huge need for information about the coronavirus and its impact on people and the environment. This in itself results in a degree of uncertainty among the population. Uncertainty often leads to reckless action. This is where criminals get a foothold and take advantage of those needs and fears in the ways I have just described.

Access to corporate networks, which may have been established in haste to facilitate working from home due to the coronavirus, is now more exposed. Some of these systems have poor security or well-known vulnerabilities, giving criminals the opportunity to exploit their shortcomings and to companies with ransomware in order to either paralyse them completely or steal data

What do you advise employees to do and say to their families and friends in order to prevent this type of attack? What are the simple measures people can take to protect themselves?

They should heed the general advice that always applies:

  • Do not open e-mails or attachments from unknown senders and never click on any links they may contain.
  • Do not respond to blackmail demands and do not reply to these e-mails.
  • Install anti-virus software to detect and prevent infection by malware and keep your systems up to date.
  • Do not allow unwanted callers to pressurise you on the phone.
  • Never share your passwords, personal details or account information.
  • Only make small advance payments for goods purchased from online shops. Paying for goods when you receive them is also recommended.

About the Author

Alicia Richon

spokesperson at Swisscom

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