COVID-19 Virus: Facing a World of Disinformation
Guest author: Michael Moore | Analyst | Advanced Resource Technologies, Inc.
The COVID 19 virus is not only creating a pandemic in the physical world but is now affecting the cyber realm. Price gouging, disinformation, and hacking tools are malicious hackers' weapons of choice in this chaotic time. United States (US) officials accused Russia of spreading disinformation beginning in mid-January (Schneier & Bourdeaux, 2020) because the Russians started to amplify the anti-vaccination movement utilizing social media. Using bots and trolls on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, users were sent an average of 22 messages. A result of the disinformation campaign is a decrease in people who will seek vaccinations.
These campaigns not only target movements but nations as well. To wit, Russia places explicit blame on the US (Mackinnon, 2020). This blame strategy is like the Cold War KGB operation that stated HIV was a US biological weapon. According to Mark, the campaign included over two million tweets messaging that CORVID 19 is a weapon developed by the CIA for purposes of continuing the economic war on China (Mark, 2020). The use of this strategy is designed to undermine trust and create discord amongst the masses.
On February 20, 2020, in Novi Sanzhary, Ukrainian disinformation created chaos and required riot police and national guard to mobilize (Melkozerova & Parafeniuk, 2020). Eight thousand residents responded when news broke out that an airlift was transporting evacuees (45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign Nationals) from the center of CORVID 19 outbreak to a nearby health center. The people believed the rumor that the evacuees contracted CORVID 19 and that authorities were placing them in quarantine. It did not matter that Ukraine did not confirm its first case until a week and a half later (March 3, 2020). Authorities informing citizens of what was going to happen in advance may have stopped the issue from getting out of control.
Disinformation takes many forms, especially when cybercriminals are using fear to achieve their goals. CORVID 19 themed domain registrations increased more than 50% and likely stem from cybercriminals (Witkowski, 2020). John Hopkins University’s CORVID 19 tracking map is the primary target. Hackers are utilizing malware and a simulated John Hopkins University’s CORVID 19 map to exploit users and steal passwords and data. Further, hackers are creating fake websites and emails with the World Health Organization (WHO) logo (Payne, 2020). Cybercriminals are posing as government officials to steal Personally Identifiable Information (PII). The Secret Service said that the most common tool criminals are using is phishing or the “fraudulent practice of sending emails supposedly from reputable companies to entice individuals to reveal PII” (Barr & Mallin, 2020).
Below are several recommendations to follow so that you get accurate information and keep your PII protected during the pandemic.
- If a website seems questionable, go to the official website and utilize their search bar.
- Firefox has an extension that blocks social media trackers, cross-site cookies, fingerprinters, and others. This blocker will assist in decreasing your searches on Google, Amazon, eBay, and others from showing up on social media recommendations. Utilize the free extension called Web of Trust. This tool will identify reputable websites and those websites that you should avoid.
- Use password management tools like Dashlane and KeePass to store and secure passwords.
- The Secret Service recommends against opening attachments from an email that is from an unknown sender (Barr & Mallin, 2020).
- Do not interact with people you do not know over the phone, claiming to be part of a government agency.
- Reverify all new information through multiple sources.
Remember, constant vigilance and knowledge are half the battle.
Barr, L., & Mallin, A. (2020). Secret Service Warns of Scams, Disinformation Campaigns Around Spread of Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/Health/secret-service-warns-scams-disinformation-campaigns-spread-coronavirus/story?id=69509243
Mackinnon, A. (2020). Russia Knows Just Who to Blame for the Coronavirus: America. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/02/14/russia-blame-america-coronavirus-conspiracy-theories-disinformation/.
Mark, M. (2020). Roughly 2 million tweets spread dangerous misinformation and hoaxes about the coronavirus, according to an unpublished State Department report. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/report-2-million-tweets-spread-dangerous-coronavirus-misinformation-2020-2.
Melkozerova, V., & Parafeniuk, O. (2020). How Coronavirus Disinformation Caused Chaos in a Small Ukrainian Town. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/how-coronavirus-disinformation-caused-chaos-small-ukrainian-town-n1146936.
Payne, A. (2020) Hackers are exploiting the coronavirus crisis by posing as World Health Organisation officials in order to steal bank details and target government infrastructure. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-hackers-posing-as-world-health-organisation-offiicals-2020-3
Schneier, B., & Bourdeaux, M. (2020). How Hackers and Spies Could Sabotage the Coronavirus Fight. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/02/28/hackers-spies-coronavirus-espionage/.
Witkowski, W. (2020). Hackers are using Coronavirus Concerns to Trick You, Cybersecurity Pros Warn. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/hackers-are-using-coronavirus-concerns-to-trick-you-cybersecurity-pros-warn-2020-03-12.