Protecting yourself from hackers during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 4:06 PM, Apr 08, 2020

DENVER, Colo. – The COVID-19 pandemic has created what some are calling a golden age for hackers.

Some are crashing video conferences held on platforms like Zoom.

“You know, Zoom is getting a lot of attention here,” said Bill Fitzgerald, a privacy policy researcher at Consumer Reports. “More people are using video conferences as a regular part of their life and work now. But when video conference systems are designed to allow access to people without a password, people will take advantage of that.”

However, cyber security experts have seen an uptick in hacking towards government and medical agencies, which means if those entities are vulnerable, then you might be as well while working from home.

“It really makes the attack surface so much better for the threat actor,” said Bret Padres, the CEO of The Crypsis Group. “A lot of our clients are small businesses who are having employees work from home, so they are very much at risk.”

With most of the country working from home, technology has never been more important than now to keep us connected socially and professionally.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there has been an uptick in fraudulent crimes tied to the coronavirus with some scammers posing as health agencies.

“What we’re engaged right now is not only a health crisis, but economic battle through cyber space,” said Alex Urbelis, who was once a hacker himself but now is an information security lawyer who founded the New York-based Blackstone Law Group.

In March, Urbelis discovered a hacking group that tried to break into the World Health Organization (WHO).

“I detected malicious activity from that group on March 13, but I noticed them several times before that date,” Urbelis said.

“Hospitals and the healthcare industry in general are big targets for hackers,” said Maya Levine, a security engineer at a company called Checkpoint. “There’s a lot of money in medical records and selling them on the black market.”

If these experts say that those entities were targeted, what is stopping hackers from targeting you at home?

“Everybody is much more vulnerable now,” Fitzgerald said.

“Most employers have always had employees working from home, and on a moment noticed everybody is working home,” Urbelis said.

“Even before the coronavirus and people were working from home, remote access was the number one attack service we saw,” Padres said. “If you’re working remotely now, companies need to enable users to work remotely in a secure way. Things like VPNs with two factor to keep your data encrypted.”

According to the experts, hackers prey on fear and the global crisis is a perfect stage for that.

“A lot of hackers capitalize on COVID-19 by creating malicious websites and sending emails related to the coronavirus,” Levine said.

“We’ve been monitoring domain name registrations that relate to the coronavirus and what we saw is astounding,” Urbelis said. “What we saw were over 2,500 domain registrations every single day, exponentially larger than anything I have ever seen.”

It’s safe to say a lot of people don’t know how long they will continue to work from home, but the experts say as long as we are in this pandemic, the attacks won’t stop.

“For some of them, this fraud is what puts bread and butter on the table for their families,” Urbelis said. “So, they are going to be as desperate as they can be.”