Lockdown boom for cyber frauds: Beware! Covid crime going ‘viral’ online


MAY 23, 2020

Extending help to Coronavirus affected people, South Delhi based real estate consultant Badal Srivastava donated Rs 5,100. “I got an SMS seeking donations for Covid-19 warriors and victims.

To do my bit, I sent Rs 5,100 through ewallet, but didn’t receive any notification thereafter. When I checked properly, I found I’d been conned,” he said.

Like Srivastava, hundreds of people are getting duped by cyber criminals cashing in on the forced lockdown and the resultant ‘work from home’ practice. They have created Coronavirus-themed phishing lures, malware infections, network intrusions, scams and disinformation campaigns.

Phishing, a widely-used tactic by scammers, uses an email that appears to be from a reputable source and attempts to trick recipients into handing over sensitive personal information like usernames, passwords, and credit card information.


Even as the Coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, there has been a multiple-fold increase in cyber attacks, say experts. Internet usage has drastically shot up with most office-goers working from home and students taking online classes. Amid all this, cyber crooks are busy writing malicious programmes, phishing attacks and malware targeted at unsuspecting victims.

According to a source in CERT-in, hours after PM Narendra Modi announced the PM CARES Fund, dozens of similar sounding websites or phishing messages were created and circulated over the Internet. Delhi Police cyber cell officials said they came across 80 fake UPI IDs that were created around the same time in March when PM Modi announced the fund.

Recently, after receiving an alert from Interpol, the Central Bureau of Investigation issued a warning related to a banking Trojan known as Cerberus. This malicious software impersonates a link from a legitimate source and tricks users into installing it on their smartphones, the CBI warned.

According to the investigation agency, this Trojan primarily focuses on stealing financial data such as credit card numbers and bank details. “In addition, it can trick victims into providing personal information and can capture two-factor authentication details [used to verify login details],” said the CBI.

Explaining how Cerberus works, Gurugram based cyber investigator Gautam Kumawat says, “Cerberus is quite tricky as it starts to abuse device security features by granting itself additional permissions needed to send messages and make calls, without requiring any user interaction. It can leverage keylogging which helps unlock the device.”

Soon after receiving the Interpol alert, other security agencies have swung into action and have started planning awareness campaigns on social media platforms.

“We have received the alert, but so far Delhi Police haven’t received any complaint related to the new Trojan attack. But the cyber cell is aware of the issue and will start an awareness campaign for safe web usage,” said Bhisham Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch (Cyber Cell).

UN disarmament Chief Izumi Nakamitsu on Saturday said the Covid-19 pandemic is moving the world toward increased technological innovation and online collaboration, but cybercrime is also on the rise, with a 600 per cent increase in malicious emails during the current crisis.


A cyber threat analysis done by the global firm K7 Computing shows that Kerala recorded the highest number of cyber attacks – from February 2020 to mid-April 2020. In its findings, K7 Computing said the key threats seen during this period ranged from phishing attacks to rogue apps disguised as Covid-19 information apps that targeted sensitive data.

According to K7, phishing attacks were noticed more in Tier-II and Tier-III cities while the metros fared better. Smaller cities saw over 250 attacks being blocked per 10,000 users. Users from Ghaziabad and Lucknow seem to have faced almost six and four times the number of attacks, respectively, as compared to users in Bengaluru. In Kerala, regions like Kottayam, Kannur, Kollam and Kochi saw the highest hits with 462, 374, 236, and 147 attacks respectively, while the state as a whole saw around 2,000 attacks during the period.

This was followed by Punjab with 207 attacks and Tamil Nadu with 184. “The panic caused by the stringent lockdown measures and rapid spread of this virus has left many people looking for more information on the situation. Threat actors exploit this fear to their advantage and scam users into downloading malicious software and divulging sensitive information like banking codes,” said J Kesavardhanan¸ founder and CEO of K7 Computing.


The nationwide lockdown has turned out to be a golden period for online fraudsters, says cyber lawyer Pawan Duggal. “Due to the lockdown, everyone is at homes and accessing Internet like never before. On top of that, Internet surfing during this lockdown period remains unsupervised.

This shift has increased remote activities, thus creating perfect conditions for email fraud schemes,” adds Duggal.

As per Google, Coronavirus has led to an explosion of phishing attacks in which criminals try to trick users into revealing personal data. The company said it was blocking more than 100 million phishing emails and more than 240 million Covid-19 related spam messages a day. Over the past week, almost a fifth were scam emails related to Coronavirus.

DCP (Cyber Crime) Aneesh Roy said hackers are trying their best to take advantage of the Coronavirus pandemic to lure potential victims. “Usually hackers follow the footsteps of international criminals and replicate it on Indian targets. We are in touch with several international officials, who warned us about this possible threat. That is why we started warning the general public through information campaigns,” Roy said.

Apart from phishing emails, other new cons are capitalizing on the pandemic too. In a case that was reported to Delhi Police Crime Branch, an false Facebook page of the Dalai Lama was created by fraudsters to sent fake messages to Buddhists across the globe asking them to pay money for ‘various charitable works in the wake of the Covid-19 spread’.


MALWARE is any piece of software that was written with the intent of damaging devices, stealing data, and spying. Viruses, trojans, spyware, and ransomware are among the different kinds of malware.

TROJAN: It is a type of malicious code or software that looks legitimate but can take control of your computer. A Trojan is designed to damage, disrupt, steal, or in general inflict some other harmful action on your data or network. It tends to act discreetly and create backdoors in your security to let other malware in.

Phishing is a widely-used tactic by scammers, uses an email that appears to be from a reputable source and attempts to trick recipients into handing over sensitive personal information like usernames, passwords, and credit card information.

VIRUS: It gets attached to clean files and infect other files. They can spread uncontrollably, damaging a system’s core functionality and deleting or corrupting files. They usually appear as an executable file (.exe).

SPYWARE: It hides in the background and takes notes on what a user do online, including passwords, credit card numbers, surfing habits, and more.

RANSOMWARE: This kind of malware typically locks down your computer and your files, and threatens to erase everything unless a user pay a ransom.

BOTNETS: These are networks of infected computers that are made to work together under the control of an attacker.

Courtesy/Source: India Today