COVID-19: Criminals cashing in on cybercrime, disinformation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals have been quick to seize opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modi operandi and engaging in new criminal activities. Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

Cybercriminals have been among the most adept at exploiting the pandemic. The threat from cybercrime activities during the crisis is dynamic and has the potential to increase further. 

With a record number of potential victims staying at home and using online services across the EU, the ways for cybercriminals seeking to exploit emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities have multiplied.

Europol has been monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cybercrime landscape since the beginning and found the following are on the rise.

  • Ransomware
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Hybrid threats: disinformation and interference campaigns

Europol Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle: “This pandemic brings out the best but unfortunately also the worst in humanity. With a huge number of people teleworking from home, often with outdated security systems, cybercriminals prey on the opportunity to take advantage of this surreal situation and focus even more on cybercriminal activities. 

“With this report we want to warn individuals, companies, public institutions and other organisations about these criminal activities. I would also like to draw special attention to the most vulnerable among those victims; I am very concerned about the rise of child sexual abuse online. Europol is investing resources and capacities to support Member States in countering cyber-dependent crime during this difficult situation.”

Five global trends

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cybercrime has been the most visible and striking compared to other criminal activities.
  • Criminals active in the domain of 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.
  • Both criminal organisations, states and state-backed actors seek to exploit the public health crisis to advance geopolitical interests.

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