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By Essie Bester

Phishing campaigns that flourish on fear of the virus began to emerge towards the end of January and spread just as fast as the disease. One report claims that email attacks that can be linked to the Covid-19 virus have increased by 600%.

Malicious entities usually present themselves as trustworthy organisations (banks, traders) or an individual (coworker, IT administrator) and are successful because people are uninformed. They react in good faith to phishing messages by clicking on links or installing free application programs without thinking about it.

What do the cyber criminals hope to achieve?

Fraud via business email is designed to mislead victims into transferring sensitive information or money – personal or corporate – to the accounts of cyber criminals. They also aim at penetrating organisations and casting suspicion on information systems (especially corporate pay systems) and implicating the quality of services. A successful attack could lead to more fraud.

Beware of the following techniques

Cyber attacks are on the increase and flourish during natural disasters, terror attacks and pandemics. The following are a few of the Covid-19-related tactics that came to the fore.

  • Emails purporting to be announcements by the government

Cyber thieves send out phishing and fraudulent emails that are presented as government announcements. Emails containing logos and other illustrations linked to the Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation (WHO), or links to items of interest (such as updated numbers of the corona virus) are other methods. Landing pages for these false links may look genuine, but these websites are often malicious.

  • Operational and industrial disruption

Attacks are often aimed at manufacturing, financing, health-care and transport businesses and are disguised as invoices, dispatch receipts and even applications for jobs. False emails usually contain attachments that contain malicious software designed to collect sensitive data, or harmful ransomware that can disrupt access to and the availability of information systems.

  • Hidden malware

Fraudulent emails refer the recipients to educational websites and health-related websites that contain harmful software.

  • False advice and cures for the virus

Emails ostensibly promising cures for the virus were some of the first corona virus-related phishing attacks. Some invite recipients to download attachments that contain secret cures for the virus while they are actually designed to steal the victim’s personal and financial information.

  • False charity

Emails that emulate the Centres for Disease Control and ask for donations to combat the spread of the virus are sent out. They play on the emotions of the recipients and encourage the victims to make a payment. Never make donations to a charitable organisation via a link in an email – rather visit the website of the relevant charitable organisation.

  • Fraud beyond business emails

During crises and periods of economic downturn extra adaptations of control measures are necessary to lessen the risk for fraud. For instance, security checks for client accounts should be adapted to distinguish between fraudulent transactions and legitimate transactions. Swindlers could be targeting other products than before the crisis because clients’ behaviour and preferences may have changed because of the crisis.

Help your employees to resist cyber attacks

It takes only one unsuspecting employee for an opponent to penetrate your network.

Heightened awareness can be a powerful antidote that can protect employees and employers, says Penny Futter, African Bank’s head of information.

See to it that all your employees take these precautionary measures:

  • Be sceptical about emails from unknown or even known people (such as the CEO of your undertaking) who do not usually communicate with you directly.
  • Do not click on links or attachments from suspicious people.
  • Do not forward suspicious emails to coworkers.
  • Scrutinise the email address to make sure that it is genuine. Hover over the link to expose the associated web addresses in the “to” and “from” field; watch out for minuscule character changes that make emails look accurate visually – like a .com domain where, for example, it should be .gov.
  • Watch out for grammatical errors in the text of an email; this is usually a sure sign of fraud.
  • Report suspicious emails to the IT or security department.
  • Install the corporately approved antiphishing filter in browsers and emails.
  • Use the approved antivirus software.

Prepared for the future

The current public health crisis caught businesses unawares. They had only weeks or, in some cases, only days to make a shift to a telecommunication labour force (something that could easily lead to cyber crime).

In future, make sure that you are ready for such an event by taking the following steps from the cyber experts PwC, a worldwide organisation who delivers industry-related services to public and private clients:

  • Plan your reaction to a phishing attack beforehand. Incorporate the lessons you learned from your previous simulations to fill gaps and allocate the responsibility for communication to the people concerned.
  • Reinforce your borders. Use security solutions to identify and fend off threats before attackers can penetrate your systems.
  • Use multifactor verification for access to virtual private networks (VPNs). This means that you will have to combine your user name and password with, for instance, a one-time password (one-time PIN or OTP) on your cell phone. Limit access to your IP address (the address of your network hardware that helps to connect your computer with other devices on your network worldwide) to trustworthy users only.
  • Make sure that your security software works as it should.
  • Secure providers’ portfolios and other applications that are confronted externally by using multifactor verification – especially for applications that enable a provider (or cyber criminal who masquerades as a provider) to change information about your bank account or to divert payments.
  • Broaden your knowledge of cyber threats during the crisis. Work with risk-management and fraud management teams to improve detection and enhance reactions.





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