Cybercriminals are taking advantage of coronavirus fears with fake websites and phishing schemes

Exploiting a public health crisis for personal gain is the dastardly crime of our times.

The research arm of security firm Check Point has found that cybercriminals around the globe have launched phishing and other malware deployment schemes that ride on people’s thirst for information about the coronavirus. 

In its most recent report, it found that coronavirus-related websites created in January and February of this year are “are 50% more likely to be malicious” than other websites created in the same time period. That means that if you search for information about the coronavirus, you could stumble onto a website that has the sole aim of stealing your information. 

Criminals have also sent out email phishing campaigns purporting to contain coronavirus information. One campaign in Italy masqueraded as an official email from the World Health Organization. In truth, it contained a malicious attachment — and got sent to 10 percent of organizations within Italy.

“Concerns about COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, seem to have become as contagious as the virus itself,” Check Point’s report reads. “Cyber-criminals are quick to take advantage of these concerns for their own gain.”

According to the report, “there have been over 4,000 coronavirus-related domains registered globally.” Researchers found that 3 percent of those sites were malicious and an additional 5 percent were labeled as suspicious. That means that there were about 320 sketchy websites lurking online, ready to take advantage of people’s fears.

A recently created Russian website offered deeply discounted coronavirus testing kits alongside a heat map of infections. The products were bogus and the website was not secured, meaning hackers could use it as a way to spy on your activity and glean your personal details.

Check Point says the best way to protect yourself is to be wary of lookalike URLs and email addresses, and to not open attachments or download anything from an unfamiliar source. Additionally, with a shortage of coronavirus tests and no known cures, buying discounted coronavirus tests and cures is really not a thing.

“‘An exclusive cure for Coronavirus for $150’ is usually not a reliable or trustworthy purchase opportunity but most likely fraud,” the report reads. “At this point of time there is no cure for the coronavirus and even if there was, it definitely would not be offered to you via an email.”

Stay safe out there, kids.

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