Cyber crimes 'on the rise' during Covid-19 lockdown, warn experts

29 April 2020 - 07:00
By Ernest Mabuza
Cyber attacks in SA have been increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: 123RF / Glebstock Cyber attacks in SA have been increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The global Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health issue: cyber attacks are also on the rise as more and more people work from home during the lockdown.

Vodacom says it has seen a 40% jump in data usage during the lockdown as many people spend far more time online than usual, including performing day-to-day tasks such as shopping, banking, watching content and socialising.

Cyber criminals have quickly seized the opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modes of operation and developing new cyber-related attacks and online criminal activities, it warned.

"In view of the global pandemic, cyber attacks are on the rise as we continue to shift to remote working," said Jacob Kutumela, the company's head of forensic services.

"Cyber criminals are well aware that people are spending more time online and have been targeting them with innovative scams suited to the current environment."

He said this period was the perfect time for cyber criminals to prey on anxious and less tech-savvy consumers who are desperately looking for the latest Covid-19 news and information.

Kutumela said there are several scams on the go, including phishing, where e-mails designed to look like they come from a reputable source are intended to deceive the consumer into disclosing personal or confidential information and/or allow access to their accounts.

"Phishing scams can take many forms, including e-mails designed to look like they are from official sources, government authorities or financial institutions," he said.

Another popular way in which cyber criminals can defraud people of their of money is through electronic requests for charitable donations.

"While fake charity approaches occur all year round, there is a significant increase in these during the times of real disasters or emergencies, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic," said Kutumela.

"Cyber criminals may pose as agents of legitimate well-known charities or create their own charities and request donations for medical research or to support victims and their families."

To protect against these scams, Kutumela advised people to never click on links or open attachments in e-mails they were not expecting or which appear suspicious.

"Verify the authenticity of a website before entering sensitive or personal information," he added.

University of Cape Town (UCT) senior systems engineer Ghamza Jacobs urged employers to provide employees working from home during the lockdown with sanctioned technology and applications.

In a webinar hosted by the Western Cape chapter of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals SA (IITPSA), Jacobs warned that cyber criminals could try to spoof legitimate tools during this time in order to trick users into downloading malicious programmes.

"It is very important that users are not left to their own devices, to Google 'business tools' and download any applications they find," said Jacobs.

"Employers should always have sanctioned technologies and services, and they should create a trusted source for particular purposes. They need to be clear on what they should be using and where to get it."