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Yes, even your IT systems are susceptible to COVID-19

published in McAfee & Taft LINC Alert | March 18, 2020

Current events have often been used for malicious IT attacks, and COVID-19 is unfortunately no different. With the recent uptick in coronavirus cases has come an uptick in email spam, ransomware, malicious domains, and other attacks using the coronavirus pandemic in attempts to compromise business IT systems and personal information.

IBM researchers are credited with the discovery of one of the first email scams tied to coronavirus, in which an attacker urged recipients to download a malware-infected email attachment claiming to contain infection-prevention measures. A more recent hoax recently came to light from the Android app store. An app available at coronavirusapp[.]site claims to provide access to a map that provides real-time virus tracking. Researchers from DomainTools, however, say the app is laced with ransomware. Once infected, the ransomware will deny a victim access to their phone unless they pay a ransom in bitcoin.

Researchers have also uncovered email scams to college students posing as official communications from university personnel as well as emails to the general public that claim to be from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that urge the recipient to open a link that deploys malware. Another scam involves pointing people to an online map that purports to track COVID-19 cases, but actually steals usernames, passwords and credit card numbers stored in a user’s browser. The World Health Organization and similar entities are also seeing an increase in the use of their logos in phishing emails that purport to provide information on the virus with malicious links or attachments.

Recent attacks are also trying to take advantage of the increasing number of employees working from home. Those working from home may be outside of their employer’s firewall and without many of the protections their corporate IT structure would otherwise provide. As a result, malicious attacks feigning to be from employers are likely to increase. For example, a known scam purports to come from employers and targets those working from home asking them to download new or updated software. The email provides a link to fake downloads of Microsoft and other products that hope to capture user credentials. Spam emails falsely claiming to be from suppliers providing updates in light of the pandemic have also been reported.

Cyberattacks using the coronavirus are also focused on the medical community while medical professionals struggle to deal with the spread of the disease. Utilizing the urgency surrounding the situation, researchers have uncovered social engineering attacks seeking log-in credentials to access IT infrastructures or financial information. This growing risk on U.S. health companies and other corporations led the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to issue a recent alert urging organizations to “adopt a heightened state of cybersecurity” as the coronavirus situation unfolds.

Hackers seeking to capitalize on topical events is nothing new, but growing concern about the spread of the coronavirus may cause companies to lose sight of IT vulnerabilities. So, as businesses urge their staff to be diligent about their physical health and safety, they should also remind employees to stay diligent about company IT health and security. In light of the growing uptick of coronavirus-related scams, companies should stress cybersecurity awareness and remind staff to look closely at emails, be wary of clicking links and attachments, use common sense and prudence when something does not look right, and to go to a primary source of information such as www.cdc.gov rather than relying on unprompted emails.

Find more information and resources concerning the legal and business issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic on our dedicated COVID-19 Resource Center. Also, keep up with all our latest client alerts, articles, news and events at mcafeetaft.com and our social media pages on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.


This Alert has been provided for information of clients and friends of McAfee & Taft A Professional Corporation. It does not provide legal advice, and it is not intended to create a lawyer-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information in this Alert without seeking professional counsel.

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