As you are probably aware there is a serious virus (COVID-19) spreading around not only the United States but also the world. The coronavirus dominates the news cycle and it has changed the way people conduct their day to day business. Of course some unscrupulous people have stockpiled toilet paper and hand sanitizer in an attempt to make a quick buck off of other people’s misery but those people are not the only ones trying to scam people out of their money during this period. In fact cyber criminals appear to be ramping up their efforts.

US Health And Human Services Attacked

The situation with COVID-19 is a fluid situation with information changing daily or even at times by the minute. This means that new information and direction must be passed on quickly. It can seem like the point of information overload and cyber criminals are taking advantage of this. Over the weekend of March 15 hackers attacked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the US agency that oversees the health services of the US.

The attackers did not appear to be interested in targeting the personal information of Americans stored in its database but instead on slowing the agency’s response and sowing confusion with at least a portion of the population that appears to be on the verge of panic. The hackers also pushed rumors of a national quarantine that the government was forced to take time to disavow and unfortunately all too many people believed. 

Truth And Rumors

Not every hack of a system is intended to steal information or money. Some are simply meant to deface a website or create confusion. With potentially millions of Americans looking for guidance from HHS and the government any major change could instill panic in the general populace. The attack was meant to slow down their computer systems and spread misinformation to the public. A series of text messages were also sent out stating that the Stafford Act would be invoked and a national quarantine would become mandatory. This message was quickly shared around social media.

As soon as any information on a popular topic like COVID-19 comes out it is shared quickly across social media and the world almost instantly. This news could change how businesses plan for the upcoming week or month and it would change how employees might feel about coming to work. It might cause people to pull money from the stock market and it was a good thing that this happened while the markets were closed over the weekend though the stock market continued to tank into last week. 

Creating Confusion

It took until late Sunday night for the National Security Council to issue a tweet responding (and hopefully dispelling) the rumors of a national lockdown. It is true that lies can spread halfway around the world before the truth can strap on its boots. Rumors of a lockdown were certainly believable as several communities in New York and New Jersey were already under lockdown or were facing one. We ourselves here in York County, Pennsylvania went into our own the following Monday.

In the midst of a presidential election cycle foreign actors are already trying to sow confusion and discord and this gives them another avenue to create a problem. The government has challenged tech companies to help stop the spread of false information but it seems it has done little to stem the flow. It just shows the difficulty that comes with dealing with this kind of problem and this is not a problem unique to 2020.

Phishing Attacks On The Rise

Confusion is not the only vector of attack that cyber criminals are pursuing. Coronavirus-themed phishing attacks are on the rise. Attackers are sending emails with attachments that appear to have information or instructions relating to COVID-19 that are infected with malware. Should a person open the attachment their computer will become infected and can be exploited by the attacker. By now we have all had our inboxes inundated with statements from every company under the sun with statements about COVID-19 so hopefully most people simply skipped over them figuring there would be no new information.

The National Cyber Security Center has been spearheading an effort to take down malicious websites and stop these attacks but considering how easy it is to create a website they are fighting an uphill battle. These attacks have been targeting regular people and companies around the globe and are believed to be the work of both state-sponsored actors that include the usual suspects like Russia, China and North Korea as well as individuals.

Hard To Control

Fighting against this is an uphill battle for security experts and researchers and the issues are not just with websites and emails. Apps related to COVID-19 are being refused on the Apple App Store unless they are coming from a reputable source like a government and health organization or a medical or educational institution. Any app that is geared toward entertainment will not be allowed. 

Some Silver Linings

There are some silver linings for some apps. With more people staying home though some apps appear to be receiving more traffic. While the thought of going on a date using the Tinder app is preventing some people from actually meeting, conversations are up. Another app, the video dating service Say Allo is seeing a 350% increase in traffic, something that they were not prepared for. In fact the traffic spike was so sudden they thought that they were seeing a cyber attack of their own. An increase in dating site traffic has of course led to some new cheesy pickup lines too.

COVID-19 is a serious issue and it will probably take several months for everything to return to normal. Some people are not taking it seriously. If this is you, you should know that even the terrorist group ISIS is advising its followers to practice good hygiene, stay away from healthy members if they get sick and of course put their trust in Allah

Let’s face it, if ISIS is taking this seriously, we all should and that includes being vigilant with your cyber security. So, when you get one of the hundreds of emails about COVID-19 that all say the same thing you can probably just move on as no new information is going to be presented. And if you see a viral tweet going around the Internet you might want to fact check it just to make sure it is accurate. Given the number of press conferences held by government officials, that will not take long to do. It’s not like you’re going to have much else to do if this gets too much worse.

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