It’s not just the coronavirus that’s creating havoc. Related scams and malware are causing trouble, too, with cybercriminals seemingly intent on taking advantage of what is already a dire situation for many folks.
Highlighting the extent of the problem, Google has revealed that on each day over the past week, its Gmail-linked computer systems detected — and blocked — 18 million malware and phishing emails related to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
On top of that, it also blocked more than than 240 million daily spam messages linked to the virus.
In an online post outlining the current situation, Neil Kumaran, a Gmail security product manager, claimed that Google’s machine-learning systems have become so good at detecting the online threats that it manages to block 99.9% of spam, phishing, and malware from reaching Gmail inboxes.
“The phishing attacks and scams we’re seeing use both fear and financial incentives to create urgency to try to prompt users to respond,” Kumaran noted in his post.
Citing several examples of how scammers will stop at nothing to trick innocent people into handing over cash, Kumaran explained how some are impersonating high-profile bodies such as the World Health Organization, which has been leading efforts to combat the pandemic. The perpetrators send the bogus emails to try to solicit fraudulent donations, or distribute malware, which, if downloaded, could give remote access to the victim’s computer or mobile device.
Some criminals are imitating government institutions in a bid to trick small businesses, while others are trying to exploit people working from home for the first time, sending emails pretending to be from “the admin department” and asking the recipient to click on a (dangerous) link.
The above is just a small sample of what is likely to be a myriad of creative approaches by criminals aiming to grab dollars or data (or both) from their victims. But as Kumaran points out in his post, these online threats are nothing new, “rather, they’re existing malware campaigns that have simply been updated to exploit the heightened attention on COVID-19.”
Although Gmail and other email platforms endeavor to catch these odious emails, you should still stay alert for such content, and always take extra care when it comes to downloading attachments or clicking on links.