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Beware Scams Exploiting Coronavirus Fears

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We are currently experiencing an unprecedented global event. The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – now officially a pandemic – has caused apprehension globally, ultimately resulting in lockdowns, travel bans, panic buying, and financial market turmoil.

Scammers, too, have taken notice. Emergencies offer golden opportunities for con artists to launch fraudulent campaigns that feed off, and cash in on, the climate of concern. Against the backdrop of a disease that has so far caused more than 4,000 deaths and continues to spread, scammers have wasted no time in playing on people’s fears or evoking feelings of compassion.

Some cybercriminals clearly think that all their Christmases have come at once: an anxious population, vulnerable people at the highest risk, excessive demand for goods no longer in stock, and masses of disinformation sloshing around on social media – all this equates to a massive opportunity to prey on people and attempt to defraud them while they are at their most susceptible.

The scams can take various forms, and the ESET research team has shared a few examples of the despicable tactics seen in use recently.

Malicious News
As a major source of information on the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) is among the most-impersonated authorities in the ongoing scam campaigns. In the example below, fraudsters pretend to offer important information about the virus in an attempt to get potential victims to click on malicious links. Typically, such links can install malware, steal personal information, or attempt to capture login and password credentials.

The WHO is aware that its brand is being used by scammers, so it provides advice on its website on how it communicates, and provides details of what it will or will not do in official emails. One of the most important points to note reads:

“Make sure the sender has an email address such as ‘person@who.int’. If there is anything other than ‘who.int’ after the ‘@’ symbol, this sender is not from WHO. WHO does not send email from addresses ending in ‘@who.com’‘@who.org’ or ‘@who-safety.org’ for example.”

The organization also advises to check the URL for any links in emails and that all web content will start with https://www.who.int/ and that no other domain is used. If there’s any doubt, then directly type the address into your browser.

Importantly, the WHO has not randomly started to email people who are not subscribed to a service. Consider navigating to the dedicated WHO site or to the sites of your respective national health care institutions, such as the Ministry of Health and Prevention in the UAE, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India, the Department of Health in the Philippines, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States or the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.

The real news can also be found on the trusted sources you normally visit to get your daily intake. Links in unsolicited emails do not have unique or breaking news stories.

In another example, the phishing website below is attempting to impersonate the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and is supposedly reporting the latest COVID-19 news. We have redacted some of the URL for obvious reasons, but notice that it starts with ‘worldstreet’ and the wording on the webpage states ‘world street’.

Nevertheless, some visual consistency with WSJ branding is there in a clear attempt to subtly trick the visitor into thinking that this is the Wall Street Journal. The delivery of advertising on the site is generating revenue for the bad actors, even if no personal details are gleaned from the user.

Exploiting the Charitable Spirit
Another common type of scam doing the rounds is a tug on the heartstrings that attempts to get the recipient to help fund the vaccine for children in China. There is, at the time of writing, no vaccine available and it is not expected to be ready for public use until next year.

The interesting background to this is example is that the bad actor has repurposed an existing campaign infrastructure and process with COVID-19 content. In 2019 we published details of a sextortion scam campaign attempting to scare victims in an attempt to extort money from them.

People who receive the coronavirus-themed emails are asked to send bitcoins to the attackers’ wallets. Despite this technique being only effective for a fraction of the users, when done on a global scale it can be financially attractive for the criminals.

Unmasked
In another type of fraud, scammers send spam emails in a bid to dupe the victims into thinking they can order face masks that will keep them safe from the novel coronavirus. What happens instead is that the victims will unwittingly reveal their sensitive personal and financial information to the fraudsters.

As you would expect, Google Trends shows that search volumes for terms such as ‘hand sanitizer’ and ‘face masks’ and are reaching unprecedented levels. With demand for these products outstripping supply, con artists have been increasingly targeting people who are looking to take protective measures. According to Sky News, fraudulent face mask sellers swindled people in the UK out of £800,000 (US$1 million) in February alone.

Face masks are in very limited supply, so be savvy about product claims and only purchase from a trusted vendor that you would normally trust with your order (and credit card details!).

Final Thoughts
These are just a few of the examples of how cybercriminals are attempting to capitalize on the current climate surrounding the virus outbreak. This is an apt time for individuals and businesses to learn, or be reminded of, some of the most common ways criminals capitalize on people’s emotions (not only) during major events and emergencies.

Remaining vigilant, identifying and ignoring the product of cybercriminals and cyber-nuisances involved in scams or fake news is essential. Here are some of the basics that will help you stay safe:

  • Avoid clicking on any links or downloading any attachments in unsolicited emails or texts from unknown sources, or even in trusted sources unless you’re absolutely sure that the message is authentic.
  • Ignore communications that ask for your personal information. If necessary, verify the contents of the message with the apparent sender or the organization that they (seemingly) represent, and do so via a different medium than the received message.
  • Be especially wary of emails that add to the sense of alarm and urge you to take immediate action or offer COVID-19 vaccines or cures.
  • Look out for fraudulent charities or crowdfunding campaigns.
  • Use reputable multi-layered security software that includes protection against phishing.
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Top 10 Steps to Securing Your New Computer

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Written by Phil Muncaster, guest writer at ESET

With Windows 11 making headlines for all the right reasons, it could be a great time to invest in a new PC for the family or the home office. But any new household computing device should come with an attendant safety warning. Hackers will be after your data the minute it’s connected to the internet. And they have numerous ways to get it.

That’s why you need to think about cybersecurity even before plugging your machine in and switching it on. Take time out now to refresh your memory and make cyber-hygiene a number one priority.

What are the main threats to my PC?
As soon as you’re connected to the internet, malicious actors will be looking to steal your data, encrypt and hold your machine ransom, lift financial details, secretly mine for cryptocurrency, and much more. They’ll do so via some tried and true methods, which often rely on cracking, stealing or guessing passwords, or exploiting software vulnerabilities. Top threats include:

Phishing: One of the oldest con tricks in the book. Cybercriminals masquerade as legitimate and trustworthy sources (banks, tech providers, retailers, etc) and try to persuade users into clicking on links and/or open attachments in emails. Doing so will take users to a spoofed site requesting that they fill in personal information (like logins and/or address/financial details) or could trigger a covert malware download.

Drive-by downloads and malicious ads: Sometimes merely visiting an infested website or a site running a malicious ad could trigger a malware download. We may think that well-known sites may be less compromised in this way as they are better resourced and can afford enhanced protection. But there have been plenty of counter-example through the years showing that it’s not always the case. That’s why its essential to invest in security software from a reputable provider and ensure that your browser’s security settings are correct.

Digital skimming: Hackers may also compromise the payment pages of e-commerce sites with malware designed to silently harvest your card data as it is entered. This is difficult to guard against as the issue is with the provider. However, shopping with better-known sites can reduce risk.

Malicious apps and files: Cybercriminals also hide malware inside legitimate-looking applications and downloads. Many of these are posted to online forums, P2P sites, and other third-party platforms. That’s why it makes sense to download only from trusted sources, and to use an effective security software tool to scan for malicious software.

Ten tips to keep your computer safe
Many of the below steps may be taken care of automatically by your PC manufacturer/Microsoft, but it pays to dig a little deeper to make sure all the settings are as secure as you need them to be. Here are our top 10 tips for computer safety:

  1. Apply automatic updates for the OS and any software running on the PC
  2. Remove bloatware that often comes with PCs. Check beforehand if you don’t recognize any software to ensure removing it won’t degrade the performance. The fewer pieces of software on the machine, the less opportunity for attackers to exploit bugs in it
  3. Install multi-layered security software from a reputable third-party vendor and keep it up to date
  4. Configure backups, and ideally back up a copy of data to a remote storage device kept offline
  5. Secure the browser by adjusting privacy and security settings and ensuring it is on the latest version
  6. Switch on and configure your firewall on the OS and home router, ensuring it is protected with a strong password
  7. Download a multi-factor authentication app in order to help protect your accounts from being hijacked via phishing and other attacks
  8. Avoid using USBs that you don’t own, in case they are loaded with malware
  9. Use a password manager to ensure that all your credentials are unique, strong, and hard-to-crack
  10. Only download apps/files from trusted sources and avoid pirated material, which can often be booby-trapped with malware

It goes without saying that, even by following these best practices, you could still be at risk when browsing online. Always proceed with caution, don’t reply to unsolicited emails/online messages, and ensure device encryption is switched on.

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Why You Should Use a VPN While Traveling

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According to a survey conducted by NordVPN, 50% of travellers use public Wi-Fi while on the road. However, only 20% of them use a VPN (a virtual private network) to protect themselves while being connected to a public network. “Travelers connect to public Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, parks, and trains. Some even use public computers to print their visa information or flight tickets. A VPN in those cases is crucial if you want to make sure that your vacation will not be ruined by cyber criminals. Nobody wants to lose access to their device or their bank account during a trip to a foreign country,” says Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN.

As International VPN day (August 19th) is just around the corner, Markuson lists all the benefits offered by the service.

Enhanced online security
The main purpose of a VPN is to keep its user’s online connection secure even when they are away from home. Hackers can set up fake hotspots or access unsecured public routers and this way monitor users’ online activity. Once a user is connected, criminals can intercept their internet traffic, infect the device with malware, and steal their victim’s personal information.

When authenticating themselves on public Wi-Fi, users often need to type in their email address or phone number. However, if a user has accidentally connected to a hacker’s hotspot, they could be exposing themselves to real danger.

A VPN hides users’ IP addresses and encrypts their online activity. That means that, even if a user is using a malicious hotspot, the hacker behind it won’t be able to monitor their activity. Therefore, getting a VPN for travelling abroad is essential if you want to stay secure and private online.

Grab the best deals
Depending on the country in which you’re located, the prices for airline tickets, car reservations, and hotels might vary. That’s because businesses know that people in different countries can and will pay higher amounts for certain products and services. If you use a VPN for travel, you can hop between servers in different countries and find the best deals available.

Make the best of additional VPN features
As the industry is evolving, many VPN providers add new features to make their users’ experience even more wholesome. NordVPN, for example, recently added the Meshnet feature that lets travellers connect to other devices directly no matter where in the world they are. This enables users to form a remote connection with their home or office PC from anywhere in the world to share files or for other uses.

However, having said that, please check local laws and regulations about using VPN services on your devices, before you do.

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Social Media Data Leaks Account for 41% of All Records Breached

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Written by Edward G, Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN

Social media is quickly turning into a primary security weak point. A single data breach within one of the major social media networks can result in millions of records being stolen. Within the past few years, we have seen multiple large-scale data breaches involving companies like Facebook and Twitter. Yet, we rarely see the bigger picture.

Luckily, data presented by Atlas VPN gives insight into the scope of the issue. It turns out that 41% of all compromised records in 2021 originated from social media data leaks, which is a significant upsurge compared to 25% in 2020. The data presented is based on the 2022 ForgeRock Consumer Identity Breach Report, which gathered data from various sources, such as 2021 Identity Theft Resource Center, IBM Ponemon, TechCrunch, Forrester Research, as well as UpGuard, and IdentityForce.

A few other factors make social media a security weak point within the current online landscape. First, criminals can prey on business clients by posing as the company in order to obtain credentials. This is becoming especially prevalent since companies increasingly use social networks to communicate with customers.

Second, fraudsters frequently attempt to infiltrate businesses by leveraging mutual connections, which create a false sense of security. Moreover, people who overshare on social media make it simple for thieves to locate personal information that aids in company breaches.

Besides social networks, another major source of leaked information is the retail sector, which accounted for nearly a quarter of all records breached in 2021. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division, e-commerce sales increased by 50% during the pandemic. Retail data breaches increased in frequency and severity during the same period.

While the average cost of a retail breach was $2.01 million in 2020, it increased by 63% to $3.27 million in 2021. Customer credit card, payment information, and personal data were the principal targets of retail data breaches. E-commerce websites and applications sometimes skip security precautions like two-factor authentication (2-FA) as they seek a simple user experience.

When the enormous volumes of personal data that retail websites collect are not adequately protected, it creates the ideal environment for breaches and subsequent fraud. Finally, the healthcare sector is worth mentioning with only 1% of records, yet, at the same time, the information leaked is usually particularly sensitive.

Data compromised from healthcare institutions tend to include name, address, SSN, date of birth, and, in two-thirds of the breaches, actual medical history information. With this information in hand, cybercriminals can blackmail companies or even particular individuals.

To round up the findings, it’s obvious that retail and social media companies should go the extra mile in securing their customer information. In addition, even though healthcare providers leak only a fraction of the data, they should still safeguard their client data with particular care due to the sensitive nature of the information.

Some services offer data breach monitoring tools. Data breach monitors track any data breaches related to your online accounts. It automatically scans leaked databases and informs you of any past or recent breaches where your personal information was exposed.

As always, we must mention the most effective countermeasure against data leaks. It is advised to enable multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts that offer the functionality. This way, even if your credentials are compromised, threat actors will not be able to access your account unless you lose your phone, and it is also found by ill-meaning individuals, which is less than likely.

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