“Google Sees State-Sponsored Hackers Ramping Up Coronavirus Attacks”
WIRED, April 22, 2020
By Lily Hay Newman
“More than 12 government-backed groups are using the pandemic as cover for digital reconnaissance and espionage, according to a new report.”
Digital scams and phishing campaigns related to Covid-19 have been exploding since January, and it isn’t just criminal fraudsters driving the trend. As researchers predicted, government-backed hackers around the world are exploiting the pandemic as cover for digital reconnaissance and espionage. Now Google says it has detected more than 12 state-sponsored hacking groups using the coronavirus to craft phishing emails and attempt to distribute malware.
On Wednesday, Google’s Threat Analysis Group published findings about two of the state-sponsored campaigns it’s been tracking. One “notable” effort, according to the researchers, targeted US government employees through their personal email accounts with phishing messages posing as coronavirus-related updates from fast-food chains. TAG says that some of the emails included coupons or free meal offers framed as pandemic specials, and others promoted malicious links as portals to order food online. If victims clicked the links, they were taken to phishing pages aimed at collecting their Google login credentials. TAG says that Gmail automatically marked the vast majority of these emails as spam and blocked the malicious links.
“Hackers frequently look at crises as an opportunity, and COVID-19 is no different,” TAG director Shane Huntley wrote in a blog post about the findings. “Across Google products, we’re seeing bad actors use COVID-related themes to create urgency so that people respond to phishing attacks and scams. […] TAG has specifically identified over a dozen government-backed attacker groups using Covid-19 themes as lure for phishing and malware attempts—trying to get their targets to click malicious links and download files.”
About the Author:
Lily Hay Newman is a senior writer at WIRED focused on information security, digital privacy, and hacking. She previously worked as a technology reporter at Slate magazine and was the staff writer for Future Tense, a publication and project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University. Additionally her work has appeared in Gizmodo, Fast Company, IEEE Spectrum, and Popular Mechanics. She lives in New York City.
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