While the sudden outbreak and spread of COVID-19 have led to a continuing lockdown in India, the situation has exposed the netizens to cybercrimes in the country. K7 Computing’s Cyber Threat Report, a comprehensive analysis of cyberattacks during the lockdown, has found that Kerala recorded the highest number of cyberattacks during this period. The report analyses various cyberattacks within India during the pandemic and reveals that threat actors targeted the state with COVID-19 themed attacks aimed at exploiting user trust.
The sudden surge in the frequency of attacks witnessed from February 2020 to mid-April 2020 indicates that scammers across the world have been exploiting the widespread panic around coronavirus at both the individual and corporate level. These attacks aimed to compromise computers and mobile devices to gain access to users’ confidential data, banking details, and cryptocurrency accounts. The key threats seen during this period ranged from phishing attacks to rogue apps disguised as COVID-19 information apps that targeted users’ sensitive data. Phishing attacks were noticed more in Tier – II and Tier – III cities while the metros fared better. Smaller cities saw over 250 attacks being blocked per 10,000 users. Users from Ghaziabad and Lucknow seem to have faced almost 6 and 4 times the number of attacks as Bengaluru users. In Kerala, regions like Kottayam, Kannur, Kollam, and Kochi saw the highest hits with 462, 374, 236, and 147 attacks respectively, while the state as a whole saw around 2,000 attacks during the period – the highest thus far in the country. This was followed by Punjab with 207 attacks and Tamil Nadu at 184 attacks.
A majority of the recorded attacks were phishing attacks with sophisticated campaigns that could easily snare even the most educated users. These attacks were aimed at heightening users’ fears and creating a sense of urgency to take action. K7 Labs noticed phishing attacks where scamsters posed as representatives of the United States Department of the Treasury, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Users were encouraged to visit links that would automatically download malware on the host computer such as the Agent Tesla keylogger or Lokibot information-stealing malware, infamous banking Trojans such as Trickbot or Zeus Sphinx, and even disastrous ransomware. Other attacks included infected COVID-19 Android apps like CoronaSafetyMask that scam users with promises of masks for an upfront payment; the spyware app Project Spy; and seemingly genuine apps that are infected with dangerous malware like banking Trojans such as Ginp, Anubis and Cerberus.
Commenting on the trend, Mr. J Kesavardhanan¸ founder and CEO of K7 Computing, said “COVID-19 has created an ideal situation for various threat actors to target individuals and enterprises alike. The panic caused by the stringent lockdown measures and rapid spread of this virus has left many people looking for more information on the situation. Threat actors exploit this fear to their advantage and scam users into downloading malicious software and divulging sensitive information like banking codes. The need to be cyber cautious has never been greater. This is more so in the case of corporates who have adopted a work from home policy hurriedly without adequate cyber hygiene. We have seen an increase in attacks on enterprises and SME employees as well.”
Experts at K7 Labs forecast that the number of COVID themed attacks will continue to increase till normalcy returns. Social engineering attacks targeted at winning users’ trust will gain momentum. Healthcare institutions, well-known government offices, and international organisations will continue to be a prime target throughout the pandemic.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.