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Criminals Use Covid-19 To Launch New Wave of Cyber Threats

The Covid-19 pandemic that swept the world in 2020 altered everybody’s lives. Though some legitimate companies have been able to capitalise on the effects of the pandemic, like tailoring products to be used when working from home, many hackers and scammers also saw this as an opportunity, leading to a new wave of cyber threats where criminals leveraged Covid-19 to launch attacks.

According to the data analysed by the Atlas VPN team, 16.4 million Covid-19 related cyber threats were detected online in 2020.

Out of all the Covid-19 related cyber threats found last year, nearly 89 per cent or around 14.5 million attacks were malicious spam. Next up are harmful URLs — they made up a little over 11 per cent, or 1.85 million of all Covid-19 themed cyber threats in 2020.

Finally, less than 1 per cent or close to 33 thousand of last year’s online threats that leveraged the pandemic were malware. While effective, this cyber attack method requires more advanced technical know-how, which could have been the reason why it was the least employed among the three.

Rachel Welch, COO of Atlas VPN, shares her thoughts on the situation: “The pandemic has created the perfect storm for cybercriminals. First of all, many companies were forced to shift to remote work, and less prepared ones became a quick gain for online attackers. Secondly, the general panic and fear of the pandemic made people more susceptible to such threats.”

The US is behind more than a third of Covid-19 related cyber threats

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the whole world leaving no stone unturned, however, some countries suffered more than others. Generally, highly affected countries were also the ones behind most of the Covid-themed online threats.

The majority of such threats originated in the United States — the country most affected by the pandemic. It was behind 38 per cent or 6.3 million of Covid-related cyberattacks.

In total, 28 per cent or 4.6 million of Covid-19 online threats came from the three biggest European countries in terms of their population: Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. They also belong to the top ten countries with the most Covid-19 cases.

Cybercriminals in Australia were also active last year and commenced over 770,000 Covid-19 themed attacks, which account for 5 per cent of all pandemic-related cyber threats of 2020. The origin of the remaining 29 per cent of pandemic-related cyberattacks is unknown.

What can be done

As the fight with the Covid-19 is still ongoing, it is important to stay vigilant and avoid falling into cybercriminals’ traps. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Be wary of Covid apps. Never download apps from an untrusted or unknown source. Such apps may hide malware or spyware. Just because the app claims to help you guard against Covid does not make it credible. The same advice applies to other files as well.

Do not click on suspicious links. Spam and malicious URLs make up the majority of Covid themed cyber threats. Cybercriminals often use attention-grabbing messages, urgent language, and too good to be true promises to make you click on their link. However, if you do, you might end up installing malware on your device.

Keep your software up to date. Always update the software on your devices as soon as possible to make sure it contains the latest security patches. Cybercriminals are always looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, do not give them a chance to.

Back up your files. Make sure to make copies of your files regularly. This way, even if you experience the worst-case scenario where your files get hacked, you have backups.


  • Francis is a journalist and our lead LatAm correspondent, with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.

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