March 08, 2021 Technology

Cybersecurity Trends During a Health Crisis

The current COVID-19 pandemic provides fertile hunting grounds for cybercriminals targeting computer users

By Christina M. Jordan

Fear of the unknown provides opportunities for cybercriminals to target computer users, and the current COVID-19 pandemic provides fertile hunting grounds. The ABA Section of Litigation held a panel addressing these issues, “Cybersecurity Trends and the Impact of COVID-19,” at the Virtual Section Annual Conference in May. The panel moderator, Danielle M. Panetta, Boston, MA, and panelists Jay Doyle, Washington, DC, and Grace C. Wen, New York, NY, discussed how the pandemic has shaped cybersecurity trends and issues and what might be in store for the future of cybersecurity.

With the increase in digital transactions have come an increase in phishing and other such cyber attacks.

With the increase in digital transactions have come an increase in phishing and other such cyber attacks.

Photo Illustration by Elmarie Jara | Getty Images

Exploiting Current Events to Gain Access to Information

This is not the first time cybercriminals have used a health crisis to gain unlawful access to computers, intellectual property, bank account information, usernames, passwords, and other personal data—nor will it be the last. “Criminals often exploit current events to socially engineer victims through tailored delivery of event-relevant emails that entice victims to click on links or provide credentials,” states Doyle. There has been over a 200-fold increase in phishing emails since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Doyle adds.

“Phishing emails prey on people who are looking for information, who are vulnerable financially,” Doyle continues. “Websites and emails look like they are from credible sources, Johns Hopkins, CDC, WHO, bank, IT department,” observes Doyle, but they are hoaxes designed to collect personal information. Stimulus payments anticipated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provide targeted subject matter for scammers. For example, the Treasury Inspector General Tax Administration Office of Investigations anticipates that “criminals will engage in various scams and schemes in attempts to intercept [Economic Impact Payments] and/or steal sensitive taxpayer information during these challenging times.”

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