The cybercrime virus

351. green-hoodie-thumbnailCybercriminals have been the most adept at trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for the various scams and attacks they carry out. With a record number of potential victims staying at home and using online services across the European Union (EU) during the pandemic, the ways in which cybercriminals can exploit emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities have multiplied.

The document Catching the virus cybercrime, written by Europol in April 2020, summarises the following major threats posed by cybercrime:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cybercrime has been the most visible and striking compared to other criminal activities.
  • Criminals active in cybercrime have been able to adapt quickly and capitalise on the anxieties and fears of their victims.
  • Phishing and ransomware campaigns are being launched to exploit the current crisis and are expected to continue to increase in scope and scale.
  • Activity around the distribution of child sexual exploitation material online appears to be on the increase, based on a number of indicators. The dark web continues to host various platforms such as marketplaces and vendor shops to distribute illicit goods and services.
  • After an initial fluctuation in sales via the dark web at the beginning of the crisis in Europe, the situation stabilised throughout March 2020.
  • Vendors attempt to innovate by offering COVID-19 related products.
  • Demand and supply dynamics for some goods are likely to be affected.
  • Product scarcity occurs via distributors on the surface web.
  • Criminal organisations seek to exploit the public health crisis to make a profit or advance geopolitical interests.
  • Increased disinformation and misinformation around COVID-19 continues to proliferate around the world, with potentially harmful consequences for public health and effective crisis communication.

Ransomware has been the most dominant cybercrime threat over the last several years. The current crisis is unlikely to change that dynamic. The pandemic may multiply the damaging impact of a successful attack against certain institutions, which reinforces the necessity for effective cyber resilience.

The number of phishing attempts exploiting the crisis is expected to continue to increase. However, we also expect a greater number of inexperienced cybercriminals to deploy ransomware-as-a-service. Not all of these campaigns will result in successful attacks due to the lack of experience and technical skills of the criminals.

Offenders are likely to attempt to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable, isolated children through grooming and sexual coercion and extortion.

Children allowed greater unsupervised internet access will be increasingly vulnerable to exposure to offenders through online activity such as online gaming, the use of chat groups in apps, phishing attempts via email, unsolicited contact in social media and other means.


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