Interpol has issued an alert to 194 member countries to warn them about organised cyber crime groups targeting COVID-19 vaccines, using fake online pharmacy sites to spread malware, and spreading disinformation and fake news about upcoming vaccines.
Within days after reports of North Korean hackers targeting AstraZeneca employees with phishing emails arrived, Interpol has warned that organised cyber crime groups are going all out to exploit uncertainty about the progress of COVID-19 vaccine research to carry out large-scale fraud, disseminate fake news, and distribute malware to a large number of devices.
The global law enforcement agency said in a recent alert that cyber crime groups are exploiting the COVID-19 factor to set up thousands of fake domains that are disguised as online pharmacies. Not only are these domains being used to sell illicit medicines and medical devices, but a majority of them are also being used to spread viruses, especially phishing and spamming malware.
Hackers across the world are also conducting activities to advertise and sell fake vaccines online and are working in consonance with criminal groups that are carrying out a parallel production and distribution of unauthorised and falsified testing kits.
“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.
“It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, which is why INTERPOL has issued this global warning,” said Interpol Secretary-General Jürgen Stock.
Interpol also advised Internet users to take special care when going online to search for medical equipment or medicines and to always check with national health authorities or the WHO for the latest health advice in relation to COVID-19.
“Given the variety of storage requirements the range of vaccines under current development are likely to require, and the understandable importance attached to these vaccines in the global recovery from the ongoing pandemic, it is almost certain that the continued and sustained targeting of supply chain operations which Mimecast has seen over the last year will increase yet further still,” says Carl Wearn, head of e-crime at Mimecast.
“In particular, activity against the transportation, storage and delivery networks relied upon for the delivery of any mass vaccination programme is highly likely to escalate, as they will be viewed as key targets of threat actors in the coming weeks and months. These will be perceived as victims of choice given the high potential for disruption and delay to these programmes, and possibly the potential extension of the current period of economic damage that this disruption would entail.
“For other criminals, the additional compulsion to pay any ransom demanded as a result of an attack is likely to present an increased opportunity to ransomware threat actors. A recent ransomware attack has already taken place against at least one specialist cold-storage provider, and so organisations should be acutely aware of the increased likelihood of cyber-attack at this critical juncture,” he adds.