Virus of cyber fraud rises with Covid

Topics Coronavirus | Cyber fraud | Lockdown

Everyone is online now, courtesy global lockdown. Even for most basic of tasks and chore. From school kids to teenagers to professionals. Work and personal life is being shared constantly online with family, friends and colleagues. 

Time is ripe for cyber frauds to rise. Millions who are not adequately sensitive to cyber threats are vulnerable to fraud and phishing. Even experienced professionals working from home are at risk since connectivity at residences are vulnerable. Most companies have also pushed their internal functions and external services to cloud-based platforms. 

Organisations are rushing to cope and educate these millions who are somewhat naïve and reckless in their online activity. 

Top of the list is the World Health Organization (WHO) which has posted an alert and guidelines to warn people about fake emails. Sample this:  “WHO is aware of suspicious email messages attempting to take advantage of the Covid-19 emergency. This fraudulent action is called phishing. These “Phishing” emails appear to be from WHO, and will ask you to give sensitive information, such as usernames or passwords; click a malicious link; or open a malicious attachment. Using this method, criminals can install malware or steal sensitive information,” the alert says. 

While numbers are still coming in, some early studies show that cyber frauds have surged. “From our Cyber Intelligence Centre, we have observed a spike in phishing attacks, malspams and ransomware attacks as attackers are using Covid-19 as bait to impersonate brands, thereby misleading employees and customers. 

This will likely result in more infected personal computers and phones,” says a Deloitte report. “Not only are businesses being targeted, end users who download Covid-19 related applications are also being tricked into downloading ransomware disguised as legitimate applications.”

The study says that the ranks of cyber criminals will rise as many unemployed people with internet connections may be desperate enough to attempt cyber-crimes. 

A survey of 345 IT professionals by cyber security firm Tripwire revealed that over 60 per cent had faced Covid-19 related attacks and their security had worsened.  “Acknowledging this surge in attacks, it’s no wonder that 94 per cent of survey respondents said that they’re more concerned about their organisation’s digital security now than they were before Covid-19,” says the Tripwire Covid-19 Cyber Security Impact report May 2020. And almost 50 per cent say that “its harder to secure employees home-office.”

A recent report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) highlights the problems for India. There are more than 500 million active internet users and about 14 per cent are in the age group of 5-11 years. Minor and adult first-time users are most likely to be tricked by cyber criminals. This means 71 million minors are online using mobiles or home Wi-Fi. Often, they use the same connections as their parents or grandparents. More importantly, rural users of internet are now more than half of urban users. 

Cyber criminals will not have a tough time accessing connected homes and devices by tricking all unsuspecting users. The IAMAI numbers are for November 2019. Since Covid-19 outbreak the use of internet and mobile devices has grown sharply. The government and regulators are promising to create a protective environment. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is partnering with non-profit industry body Data Security Council of India to create a National Centre of Excellence for cyber security innovation. This centre will have to focus on educating and strengthening the security ecosystem as hundreds of millions join the digital mainstream in the next few years. Covid-19 has unleashed the cyber virus too. This may be as difficult to control. 

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