Warning as Covid scamdemic sees 419 new online threats every minute

With this week’s news from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre that more than a quarter of incidents that they responded to were Covid-related, it’s clear that online criminals have created their very own ‘scamdemic’.

Exposing the severity of the UK’s scamdemic, McAfee has released its Quarterly Threat Report: November 2020. The report reveals the impact of cyber-related crimes over the last three months, during which online criminals have taken advantage of COVID-19, adjusting their tactics to lure victims with pandemic themes and exploit the realities of working from home.

McAfee saw an average of 419 new threats per minute, a near 12% increase on the previous quarter, showing that this trend of online-criminals capitalising on the pandemic is growing.

The key findings include:

  • COVID-19 themed attacks: McAfee’s network detected a 605% increase in the total COVID-19 themed attacks in the past three months.
  • UK cyber activity on the rise. McAfee counted 561 publicly disclosed security incidents from July to September, an increase of 22% from the previous three months. While these incidents decreased 47% in the United States, they increased by 29% in the United Kingdom.
  • Mobile malware. After a 71% increase in new mobile malware samples from April – June, the last three months saw the category slow 15% despite a surge in Android Mobby Adware.
  • Sector activity. Disclosed incidents detected targeting Science and Technology increased 91% over the previous quarter. Incidents in Manufacturing increased 10%, but Public Sector events decreased by 14%.

As online criminals continue to play into the fear of consumers, what can be done to ensure they’re protected from falling victim to these common scams in the future?

Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow said: “Our recent research revealed that online criminals are getting savvier, with over half (55%) of consumers having reported experiencing scams and hacks in the past year alone, and it’s unsurprising to know that Covid has played its part.

“McAfee’s latest Threat Report dives into this more and revealed an increase of 605% in Covid themed attacks, which highlights that it’s more important than ever for consumers to stay alert in the second UK lockdown and beyond.

“Scams and fraudulent emails are still a common tactic used by online criminals as this enables them to target a large number of consumers and businesses with the same email, with the aim of gathering personal information. We’re seeing online criminals using COVID-19 themed emails to play into the fears of British consumers and prompt them into unsuspectingly downloading malware onto their personal devices, including mobiles.

“The pandemic has changed the way we live our lives, both online and offline, for good. And, as most the country will be back to working from home and relying on the internet over the next month and beyond, especially as Brits look to start Christmas shopping, risks will remain high. It’s therefore crucial that people are clued up on how to browse, shop, and live their lives online without putting personal details at risk.

“If consumers stay alert to threats and ensure they are just as savvy with online security as they are with the latest technology and platforms, then combined with a comprehensive security software on all devices, we’re looking at a much safer future.”

Consumer top tips on how to stay safe as the UK enters a second lockdown:

· Read with caution. Given online criminals regularly track what is trending in popular culture, and hundreds of posts spreading misinformation about Covid-19 appearing across social media platforms, consumers are reminded to not trust everything they read and should remain cautious of online links shared on social media.

· Go directly to the source: Be skeptical of emails or text messages claiming to be from organisations with peculiar asks or with information that seems too good to be true. Instead of clicking on a link within the email or text, it’s best to go straight to the organisation’s website or to contact customer service.

· Refrain from using illegal streaming sites. When it comes to dangerous online behaviour, using illegal streaming sites is the equivalent of spreading scandalous celebrity gossip to your device. Many illegal streaming sites are riddled with malware or adware disguised as pirated video files. Do your device a favour and stream the show from a reputable source.

· Be cautious of emails asking you to act: If you receive an email or text asking you to take a certain action or download software, don’t click on anything within the message. Instead, go straight to the organisation’s website. This will prevent you from downloading malicious content from phishing links.

· Avoid dodgy links. Whether shared on social media, via email or you are simply browsing the internet, avoid clicking on suspicious messages or URL links, even if they are posted or shared by someone you know. Always go directly to the source as opposed to clicking links or replying direct to messages.

· Engage in conversations with elderly family members: With every generation becoming tech savvy, it can be easy to forget that elderly relatives are not so used to today’s digitally driven world. As your parents and grandparents continue to learn, explain how (and why) online criminals use a range of different tactics to prey on unsuspecting consumers.

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