Be alert to potential coronavirus cyber scams

Cyber Security

During the COVID-19, aka the coronavirus, pandemic, we have heard daily the importance of good hygiene. Maintain physical distance, avoid unnecessary crowds, and above all else wash your hands. These acts of proper hygiene are meant to keep us safe as the virus continues to take its somewhat unpredictable course. Likewise, another important action we must all remember amid this crisis is to be sure we are using proper cyber hygiene.

Just like washing your hands, cyber hygiene is a term within the cyber community to ensure computer users are not unnecessarily exposing themselves to computer viruses. Malware, ransomware and other nefarious cyber viruses can infect computers, causing them to become “ill,” failing to operate as they were designed and hurting us in the process.

Cyber criminals have always used current events to help facilitate their crimes. In times of terrorist attacks or natural disasters, the cyber scams will appear online claiming to raise money for charity or having you enter your personally identifiable information (PII) under the guise of confirming bank accounts. COVID-19 is just another opportunity for the cyber criminal. In this time of crisis, while many are hard at work curing the sick, or others are simply out of work, cyber criminals are keeping busy being their own unique plague to society.

Cyber criminals are leveraging the concerns and fears over COVID-19 to steal passwords, data and money. For example, it is estimated that nearly 50% of all coronavirus-themed domain registrations are likely to be either infected with malware or actually posted by malicious actors in an effort to draw in those seeking important information. A site that purports to have suggestions on how to avoid the virus can be designed to trick computer users into downloading malware under the guise of downloading medical information. Once a computer is infected, hackers can then access all the information within, to include login credentials and passwords to bank accounts and other PII.

Even legitimate websites can pose a danger. For example, recently a major medical university tracking map had been targeted by hackers using malware to infect visitors seeking up-to-date medical information. In this scam, those visiting the website were instructed to download software, which generated a fake map that was infected with malware, thereby infecting the user’s computer. Fortunately, as those working at the university were experts in both medicine and cyber security, they discovered what the cyber criminals had been up to, removed the malware and kept their website visitors safe. 

Phishing scams have also been prominent during COVID-19, with emails that appear to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) filling inboxes, attempting to lure clicks to links that claim to offer information about the virus but instead are just another vehicle to inject malware. Furthermore, while schools are canceling classes, cyber criminals are creating false emails to students and teachers alike, alleging to be from personnel such as the institution’s “health team” and directing computer users to fake login pages that result in the theft of user credentials. Further complicating this scam is that user credentials to one website often are the same that the person might use for other websites, giving the criminal unauthorized access to a variety of locations.

Most disturbing of all is that hackers working on behalf of the government of China, where the virus originated, are capitalizing on the circumstances created by COVID-19 to also install their own malware and steal information. Along with China, North Korea and Russia are also suspected of exploiting the current health situation, preying on the concerns of others by launching phishing attacks hidden under the guise of offering authentic information about the virus, all to lure the unsuspecting computer user. 

Fortunately, there is a cure for the computer virus.

What you can do:

Like the good hygiene we are encouraged to use to avoid a contagion, we all need to likewise employ sensible cyber hygiene to avoid the viruses of the computer world.

  • Be wary of anything you click, making sure it is from a reliable source.
  • Better yet, go to the source’s web page and obtain the information directly from the site to avoid any chance of inadvertent contamination. 
  • Now is most definitively not the time to be downloading email attachments unnecessarily, even from persons you know, as they might be unwittingly passing a malware-infected attachment.
  • Keep your antivirus software and other programs up to date and be sure to regularly run a virus scan of your computer.

The coronavirus is doing damage, but eventually the threat will pass. While many will have been impacted, someday soon life will once again return to normal. However, computer viruses are here to stay. The circumstances may change, but the dangers of cyber criminals and their computer viruses are always the same. Fortunately, you have the power to protect yourself from the type of viruses that are limited to online. Doing so will not only help keep you safe, but enable you to focus attention where it really matters: yourself, your loves ones and your livelihood.

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John Iannarelli is a Safety Institute Associate and is a retired FBI agent. He knows first hand the procedures in an emergency. He was present and reported live for Fox news at the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. John is the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Computer Science in recognition of his contributions to the field of cyber investigations. John is the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Computer Science in recognition of his contributions to the field of cyber investigations. For more information about John Iannarelli, contact his agent at

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