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Coronavirus fears tempt cybercriminals in attacks

Attackers playing on fears of bioweapons, economic disruptions
Example of phishing email using fear to attempt to access users' private data | Proofpoint

Fears surrounding the coronavirus outbreak are being manipulated by cybercriminals to spread computer malware aimed at stealing personal data, a data security firm has found.

Cyberattackers have launched campaigns using email lures aimed at stoking conspiracy theory fears that there is a cure for coronavirus 2019-nCoV that isn’t being shared by authorities, California-based global online security firm Proofpoint (NASDAQ:PFPT) said Feb. 13.

Emails are being sent out saying governments are hiding a cure because the virus is being used as a bioweapon. The route to the recipient’s data is created once that person clicks on a link in the email.

Proofpoint said it has also found cases where attackers are using companies’ internal credibility to target email recipients. Such attacks are made under the guise of something such as a letter from a senior company officer.

“This email is extremely well crafted and lists the business’ president’s correct name,” Proofpoint’s Sherrod Degrippo said. “The messages contain a Microsoft Word attachment with an embedded URL that leads to a fake Microsoft Office website to enter credentials. Once the credentials are entered, the user is then redirected to the legitimate World Health Organization coronavirus information site, making the phishing transaction seem legitimate.”

One such attack method allows attackers access to users’ keystroke information, thus creating a route to record access to things such as financial transactions.

As well, attackers have been targeting economic concerns around manufacturing and shipping.

An example is emails using the subject "Coronavirus Update: China Operations." It includes an attachment titled, “Factory Contacts and Office Resumption”, to appeal to concerns around possible shutdowns in manufacturing in China due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Degrippo said those cases have seen attackers take full control of a compromised computer system.

“We recently saw this malware being used heavily in attacks against German manufacturing,” Degrippo said.

On Feb. 11, Chinese authorities said the virus death toll stands at 1,016 from a case count of 42,638.

As of Feb. 13, four cases have been confirmed in B.C.

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