In a rare public statement, the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) has issued a warning over the threat of coronavirus-related scams.
The government agency, which is part of GCHQ, noted that there has been a sharp rise in cyber attacks that take advantage of the panic and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
One of the biggest threats are phishing scams – malicious messages that appear to be from a trusted source.
These types of attack have reportedly risen by more than 600% since February, with many of them using coronavirus to trick people into handing over sensitive information or downloading an infected attachment.
Paul Chichester, the NCSC’s director of operations, said: “We know that cyber criminals are opportunistic and will look to exploit people’s fears, and this has undoubtedly been the case with the Coronavirus outbreak.
“Our advice to the public is to follow our guidance, which includes everything from password advice to spotting suspect emails.
“In the event that someone does fall victim to a phishing attempt, they should look to report this to Action Fraud as soon as possible.”
What do these scams look like?
Phishing attacks can occur via email, text, instant messaging or over the phone. From the evidence we’ve seen, you should be particularly concerned about text messages that replicate the style of the nationwide message that UK residents received when the government announced its lockdown measures.
These messages follow the typical pattern of phishing, either inciting fear (such as by claiming you are being fined for breaching lockdown measures) or offering you a reward (such as a government payment to help residents cope through the pandemic).
Meanwhile, there have also been emails imitating the World Health Organization, which encourage people to download attachments supposedly containing public safety information, and messages aimed at people who believe coronavirus is part of a government conspiracy.
Elsewhere, researchers have found instances of attackers spreading the Emotet banking Trojan by posing as a state welfare provider, and of fraudulent websites selling fake antiviral equipment.
One virus is enough
Phishing is just one of many cyber security issues that individuals and organisations should be concerned about during the pandemic.
When you consider the uncertainty and anxiety that COVID-19 is causing, the prospect of depleted workforces in the coming weeks through illness or furlough, and the fact that cyber criminals can continue to operate from the safety of their homes, cyber security should be a top priority.
We’ll continue to give regular updates and advice on our blog, but you can also find solutions to help you through these turbulent times by visiting our website.
Nobody knows what the full effect of the virus will be, but you have enough to worry about without the threat of a cyber attack or data breach.