Europol: COVID-19 Causes Spike in Cybercrime

Published: 08 October 2020

 Ransomware is one of the most terrifying tools at a cyber criminal’s disposal. (Source: Ransomware is one of the most terrifying tools at a cyber criminal’s disposal. (Photo: B_A, Pixabay, License)

By David Klein

As the coronavirus pandemic forced many to work from home, criminals seem to have adapted to the new situation and are also increasingly working remotely and causing an upward trend in cyber crime, according to Europol's Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment, IOCTA, for 2020. 

“During the lockdown, we turned to the internet for a sense of normality: shopping, working and learning online at a scale never seen before,” Europol said in a press release accompanying the report. “Although the COVID-19 crisis showed us how criminals actively take advantage of society at its most vulnerable, this opportunistic behaviour of criminals should not overshadow the overall threat landscape. In many cases, COVID-19 has enhanced existing problems.”

 Social engineering and phishing attacks remain two of the most common crimes on the web, according to Europol. With an elderly and often non-tech savvy population unexpectedly thrust into remote work, that type of crime has become all the more lucrative. 

 “Criminals quickly exploited the pandemic to attack vulnerable people; phishing, online scams and the spread of fake news became an ideal strategy for cyber criminals seeking to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19,” said Europol. 

 Ransomware, however, is still one of the most terrifying tools at a cyber criminal’s disposal. 

 With the increase in remote working, especially amongst essential public service, health and safety workers, keeping virtual networks running smoothly is of the utmost importance. With a ransomware attack, cyber criminals can hijack an online system’s ability to operate and hold it hostage, while demanding a significant ransom.   

 “The clear majority of law enforcement respondents named ransomware as a top priority threat,” said the IOCTA report. “Considering the scale of damage that ransomware can inflict, victims also appear to be reluctant to come forward to law enforcement authorities or the public when they have been victimised, which makes it more difficult to identify and investigate such cases.”

 The importance of the healthcare infrastructure amidst the pandemic makes hospitals and other public services lucrative targets, while the increasingly remote workforce, operating from less secure home computers, has become increasingly vulnerable. 

 The IOCTA report also found that the rise of cryptocurrencies, with their less traceable nature, has made them the choice currency for cyber criminals to demand ransoms and payments for their illicit activities.