Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercrime has grown more than any other criminal activity, a Europol report revealed on Friday.
“With a record number of potential victims staying at home and using online services across the European Union (EU) during the pandemic, the ways for cybercriminals seeking to exploit emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities have multiplied,” it said.
The mass increase in remote work across the world and reliance on digital networks has created fertile ground for cybercriminals to exploit through ransomware, phishing and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
“Ransomware is a type of malicious software criminals use to take files on a device hostage by encrypting the data and subsequently refusing access to them. To regain access to the files, the victim needs to pay the criminal a ransom,” the report explained.
Business is booming for criminals experienced in ransomware attacks who are finding their skills particularly marketable in the current climate.
“Ransomware is also offered on the dark web as a ransomware-as-a-service product,” read the report. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, most reports to Europol have related to previously known ransomware families, which suggests the involvement of established criminals continuing their business.”
In the midst of a pandemic, hospitals and public health facilities are some of the most vulnerable organizations, as they’re ability to function without disruption is most critical.
In the United States, The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, a public health department in Champaign, Illinois, was temporarily taken down by a ransomware attack last month, the News-Gazette, a local outlet reported.
Europol has also been monitoring online Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) as well and, while conclusive measurements are difficult, has found disturbing numbers. According to the report, authorities in Spain noted a significant increase in CSEM related complaints, while in Denmark, they found an uptick in the number of attempts to access tracked CSEM sites.
“Offenders are likely to attempt to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable, isolated children through grooming and sexual coercion and extortion,” Europol said.
Another topic Europol is worried about is the spread of disinformation, especially as it relates to public health. While in many places, the spread of disinformation is not in itself a crime, Europol found it is still a popular outlet for seasoned cybercriminals.
“Both seasoned cybercriminals and opportunistic individuals spread disinformation in order to benefit from it in different ways,” explained Europol. “Some individuals simply seek to obtain direct financial gain through digital advertisements, as engagement with fake news messages about COVID-19 can be very high.”
WRITTEN BY: DAVID KLEIN