FEARWARE: Cyberattacks in the context of COVID-19. What are they and how do we avoid them?

Fearware – exploiting coronavirus fears through new types of cyber attacks

Nowadays, we notice the emergence of new threats based on the acute need for information manifested by the general public, without taking into account exclusively the official sources. For example, many sites that deal with the subject of the coronavirus pandemic have appeared, with malicious content. According to studies conducted by specialized companies, no less than 4,000 new sites related to terms within the COVID-19 sphere have been registered, several hundred of them being false – either with dangerous content or distributing incorrect information.

The hackers’ activity is centered on the release of new computer viruses and even mobile applications which, for example, invites us to monitor in real time the situation caused by COVID-19, after which the payment of some amounts (Bitcoin) is requested because the phone / all the information stored on it was encrypted when accessing the application. Thus, although the procedures are all classical, cybercriminals have found new ways to profit, based on the population’s fears. This new trend, called by cyber security specialists "Fearware", is noticeable by the fact that we are much more likely to be fooled or deceived in times of global uncertainty, becoming victims of cyberattacks.

New types of cyberattacks in the context of COVID-19

Another form of attack is the transmission of well-designed phishing emails, which appear to come from medical authorities or official institutions, but instead contain malicious software through which personal data is stolen or devices are infected. The high degree of access to these emails is based on the official aspect, the exploitation of a extremely high interest subject, respectively the fear / anxiety caused by it among the population.

An actual example that cybersecurity specialists have already drawn attention to is an interactive map of coronavirus infections and deaths, initially created by John Hopkins University to provide real-time pandemic information. In the cybercriminals’ version (transposed into malicious websites, spam emails and even mobile applications), anyone who opens the map modified by hackers is infected by a form of malware that allows passwords theft, device blocking, etc.


Alos, keywords can be used successfully by hackers to attract attention. For example, the use of impact terms in texts such as "Coronavirus vaccine has been discovered" or "This medicine helps …", followed by any form of the famous "Click HERE!", is one of the most common cybercrime tools available. In most cases, if it is not about clickbait, then it will be about a cyberattack. It is self-evident (and a basic rule of cyber hygiene) that such links should not be accessed. In this context where we receive information from many places, it is necessary to be extremely careful about what we access, with the recommendation to rely on official sources (eg official authorities websites).

Cyber fraud, when we work from home

The tools for remote work remain the same, but with the increase of people who work from home and business communications made mainly by electronic means (e-mail, SMS, etc.), we must pay more attention to the messages and requests received.

For example, the "message from the boss" fraud may take place especially now, consisting of emails or phone calls apparently transmitted / made by top management but behind which cybercriminals can hide, asking employees to make urgent payments / bank transfers. What can we do? First of all, email addresses should be carefully checked when sensitive information/money transfers are required. Of course, suspicious links or documents received by e-mail will never be accessed and security procedures will always be followed in the case of payments and purchases. When receiving a suspicious email, the IT department should be informed immediately.

At the same time, we must also pay attention to the online links accessed from the work PC / laptop when we work from home and we are not protected by the perimeter infrastructure of the company.

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