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Coronavirus crisis led to ‘record-breaking’ increase in cybercriminal activity: report

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 5/13/2020 Muri Assunção
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Cybercriminal activity amid the coronavirus pandemic has soared to “record-breaking” levels, according to a report released Wednesday.

Cybersecurity firm Bolster registered a steep spike in criminal activity online during the first quarter of 2020, which showed an “exponential growth” in phishing and the creation of counterfeit web pages.

In its latest State of Phishing and Online Fraud Report, cybersecurity experts with Bolster detected 854,441 confirmed phishing and counterfeit pages, as well as some 4 million suspicious pages, from January to March.

Around 30% of malicious sites were related to COVID-19.

Some of the strategies used by online scammers include fake emails, websites related to medical scams, as well as more than 145,000 domain registrations with “stimulus check” on them, targeting taxpayers receiving financial aid from the government.

In the month of March alone, Bolster found 102,676 websites that sought to use medical information to defraud unsuspecting online customers, with 1,092 of them either selling Hydroxychloroquine — the anti-malaria drug which was once touted as a “game-changer” by Trump — or spreading misinformation about using it to cure COVID-19.

The use of phishing — which is a way cybercriminals use to steal people’s personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers — hit a record-breaking 25,000 cases in one day, on March 19.

Hackers also used the new reality of more people working from home, or quarantining during layoffs and furloughs, to capitalize on those looking for at-home entertainment.

Streaming phishing sites saw an 85% increase from January to March, with over 209 websites being created per day, the report found.

Bolster, a fraud prevention company, analyzed over 1 billion websites to understand how online fraud affects businesses, nonprofits and the online consumer community.

Abhishek Dubey, its co-founder and CEO, sees a challenging future ahead.

“We anticipate phishing site creation will continue to increase, especially as we proceed further into a COVID-minded world. The phishing lures and tactics of cybercriminals will consistently evolve to keep up with the rapidly changing threat landscape, but the underlying credential theft will not,” Dubey said in a statement.

“Cybersecurity conscious organizations will need to work together and leverage AI, automation and security training to effectively combat phishing and online fraud during this surge and beyond,” he added.

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