Barracuda researchers have seen a steady increase in the number of COVID-19-related email attacks since January, but they have observed a recent spike in this type of attack – up 667% since the end of February.
Between March 1 and March 23, Barracuda Sentinel has detected 467,825 spear phishing email attacks and 9,116 of those detections were related to COVID-19, representing about 2% of attacks. In comparison, a total of 1,188 Coronavirus-related email attacks were detected in February and just 137 were detected in January. Although the overall number of these attacks is still low compared to other threats, the threat is growing quickly.
Coronavirus-related phishing – A variety of phishing campaigns are taking advantage of the heightened focus on COVID-19 to distribute malware, steal credentials and scam users out of money. The attacks use common phishing tactics that are seen regularly. However, a growing number of campaigns are using the Coronavirus as a lure to try to trick distracted users and capitalise on the fear and uncertainty of the intended victims. The FBI recently issued an alert about these types of attacks.
Barracuda researchers have seen three main types of phishing attacks using Coronavirus COVID-19 themes – scamming, brand impersonation and business email compromise. Of the Coronavirus-related attacks detected by Barracuda Sentinel through March 23, 54% were scams, 34% were brand impersonation attacks, 11% were blackmail and 1% were business email compromise.
Phishing attacks using COVID-19 as a hook are quickly becoming more sophisticated. In the past few days, Barracuda researchers have seen a significant number of blackmail attacks popping up and a few instances of conversation hijacking. In comparison, until just a few days ago, they were primarily seeing mostly scamming attacks. As of March 17, the breakdown of Coronavirus phishing attacks detected by Barracuda Sentinel was as follows: 77% were scams, 22% were brand impersonation and 1% were business email compromise. They expect to see this trend towards more sophisticated attacks continue.
Goals of the attackers ranged from distributing malware to stealing credentials and financial gain. One new type of ransomware Barracuda systems detected had even taken on the COVID-19 namesake and dubbed itself CoronaVirus.
Skilled attackers are good at leveraging emotions to elicit response to their phishing attempts, such as the ongoing sextortion campaigns, which rely on embarrassment and fear to scam people out of money. With fear, uncertainty and even sympathy…