Hackers creating scam sites similar to COVID-19 relief packages


With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down major parts of the global economy, governments are responding with massive stimulus packages aimed at supporting businesses and individuals. And not surprisingly, cyber-attackers are busy using scam and phishing techniques to get their share, security researchers warned.

These scam websites use the news of the coronavirus financial incentives, and fears about coronavirus to try and trick people into using the websites or clicking on links, cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies said in a blog.

Users who visit these malicious domains instead of the official government websites risk having their personal information stolen and exposed, or payment theft and fraud. Check Point researchers have found that since January, a total of 4,305 domains relating to new stimulus/relief packages have been registered globally.

In March 2020, a total of 2,081 new domains were registered –38 malicious and 583 suspicious. In the first week of April, 473 were registered — 18 malicious, 73 suspicious.

“We’ve also seen a major increase in the week starting March 16 during which the American government proposed the stimulus package to taxpayers,” said the company.

The number of new domains registered that week was 3.5 times higher compared to the average of previous weeks, it added.

In the US alone, the federal government is rolling out a $2 trillion package of Economic Impact Payments to help give the economy a shot in the arm and prevent a crash. Hackers and threat actors want to cash in on the rush to get these vital payments and fill their own pockets at the expense of others.

Google recently reported that in just one week from 6 to 13 April, it saw more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams – and that’s in addition to the 240 million daily spam messages it sees related to coronavirus.

Giving examples of economic stimulus-related attacks, Check Point cited emails with malicious attachments such as “RE: UN COVID-19 Stimulus” (distributing the AgentTesla malware) and “COVID-19 Payment” distributing the Zeus Sphinx trojan. When clicking on the “Reconfirm” button, the victim is directed to a phishing login page.

The researchers said that 94 per cent of coronavirus-related attacks during the past two weeks were phishing attacks, while three per cent were mobile attacks — either via dedicated mobile malware or via malicious activity carried out on a mobile device.

“We have also seen a huge increase in the number of attacks, to an average of 14,000 a day, which is six times the average number of daily attacks when compared to the previous two weeks. And over the past week from 7th April, the average number of daily attacks increased sharply to 20,000,” Checkpoint said.

Since mid-February we have seen an escalation in the number of coronavirus-related domains being registered. In the past two weeks, almost 17,000 new coronavirus-related domains had been registered, warned the cybersecurity firm, adding that two per cent of those domains were found to be malicious, and another 21 per cent suspicious.

In all, there have been 68,000 coronavirus-related domains registered since the beginning of the outbreak in January 2020, it said. To stay protected against phishing attacks, people should beware of lookalike domains, spelling errors in emails or websites, and unfamiliar email senders.



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