Internet use has surged during the coronavirus pandemic as people find themselves stuck at home due to government-imposed lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of the virus.
The unprecedented lockdown has left people turning online for many activities that they may have previously done in person, such as shopping, socializing, and working. While the internet provides many benefits, it can also be a tool for criminals to gain access to personal information or funds.
The ongoing pandemic has provided an opportunity for cyber criminals, who have changed their habits in a bid to dupe users into giving out personal information that can be used for financial gain.
Online shopping and streaming platforms have, for instance, seen significant rise in usage, leading criminals to create fake websites that seem trustworthy and lure people into a false sense of security.
“Cyber criminals have noticed that people are relying on online shopping sites to get what they need and are using streaming websites to keep themselves entertained. Cyber criminals have created websites that imitate online shopping and streaming platforms … This tactic has caused the number of phishing attacks related to COVID-19 to increase heavily,” said Amir Kanaan, managing director for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at cybersecurity company Kaspersky.
Phishing refers to a cybercrime in which a target is led to believe they are interacting with a legitimate person or institution. Scammers can use email to take on false identities or create websites imitating real services to steal information.
Video conferencing use in particular has skyrocketed, as users have turned to online services to keep in touch. However, the security of these platforms has been questioned, with Zoom most recently coming under fire for its poor security practices.
“Given the recent news about security concerns and media scrutiny, it is vital that users don’t completely rely on the security services provided by these video conferencing applications such as end-to-end encryption,” Kanaan said.
Users should remember to not discuss personal information or share trade secrets in these applications, Kanaan warned, and added that video conferencing applications can only be used if users take the necessary steps to protect their data.
Six tips for staying safe
Kanaan outlined six tips that users can use to protect themselves from cybersecurity threats:
1. Protect your account
Use strong, unique and long passwords for each of your accounts. If possible, users should also enable two-factor authentication, a service that allows users to set a second secret code or other information beyond a password to login, such as a one-time-use code from an authentication app.
2. Don’t fall for fake applications
Remain vigilant with all applications downloaded from the internet and don’t download or install anything that has not been checked as legitimate. Best practice is to use only official websites and application stores for all downloads.
3. Don’t use social media to share conference links
To prevent unwanted people joining an online conference call, do not share the link to the call on social media.
4. Protect meetings with a password
Using a password for each meeting if the application allows it is the best way to make sure only the people that you want can attend the meeting.
5. Update operating systems and apps
Make sure that all software is updated to its most recent version. This step ensures that any known security flaws can be removed, decreasing the likelihood of successful malicious activity.
6. Check antivirus software
Ensure that antivirus is turned on, or a reputable third party antivirus software is installed.