Governments and organisations globally have been making announcements that just a few weeks prior would have been unprecedented. As more of our lives are moving online in an attempt to adapt to changes brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, many are trying out services they were previously unfamiliar with, such as video conferencing or online grocery shopping. While others are finding themselves with more time to pursue online hobbies such as gaming.
The combined effect of information overload and a mass of people using unfamiliar software and services has created an environment ripe for exploitation by cybercriminals.
Netcraft has tracked Coronavirus-themed cybercrime since 16th March, shortly after it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. While Netcraft continues to see high volumes of Coronavirus-inspired fake shops, advance fee fraud, phishing and malware lures, this post covers some of the trends Netcraft has observed since our previous posts on the topic.
Recently observed Coronavirus-themed threats
Fake Government information sites and mobile malware
Many governments have set up dedicated websites offering advice and services to support their citizens through the pandemic. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of this by providing copy-cat sites with a malicious twist.
In one recent campaign, the cybercriminals deployed a site that poses as the UK Government and offers “credit card refunds” for “COVID-19 support”. The fraudulent site uses UK Government branding and collects the victim’s personal information – including their credit card number, date of birth and telephone number.
Netcraft has added protection from Coronavirus-related cybercrime to its mobile apps for Android and iOS, and to its browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Microsoft Edge. Websites containing these attacks will be blocked for those who have the app or extension installed. The iOS app — currently available in the UK and Canada — blocks Coronavirus-themed attacks impersonating Canadian and UK businesses as well as providing global coverage of fake shops purporting to sell Coronavirus-related goods.
Since 16 March Netcraft has been monitoring and disrupting Coronavirus-themed cybercrime, which accounts for five percent of the attacks we perform countermeasures against and is becoming more prevalent on the internet.
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In the April 2020 survey we received responses from 1,246,121,153 sites across 260,089,947 unique domains and 9,669,267 web-facing computers. This reflects a gain of 10,000 computers and 2.90 million domains, but a loss of 16.9 million sites.
nginx and Microsoft lost the most sites this month — 13.4 million and 10.4 million each — but like all other major vendors, they both gained domains.
Since attaining the largest share of domains last month, nginx has extended its lead with net growth of 1.84 million domains and now has a 28.5% share of this market, compared with Apache's 27.8%.
Although Apache gained the largest number of sites this month — more than 2 million — it lost 598,000 active sites and its presence amongst the top million websites decreased by 4,230 sites, which took its top-sites count down by 1.43%. Nonetheless, Apache still has the largest share of the top million sites for now (29.1% compared with nginx's 25.5%), and also continues to lead in terms of active sites and web-facing computers.
Vendors respond to COVID-19
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect many people's lives in an unprecedented fashion, some web server vendors have offered to help in a variety of direct and indirect ways.
Microsoft has made an initial $1 billion donation to Puget Sound's COVID-19 Response Fund; published a map that tracks active, recovered and fatal cases; and has offered its Healthcare Bot service powered by Microsoft Azure to help frontline organisations screen patients for potential infection and care.
NGINX and F5 are offering free resources for websites impacted by the crisis. This includes free access to its core training for NGINX Open Source; providing additional help and one free year of NGINX Plus to the education, public government and non-profit sectors; and encouraging its employees to respond to NGINX related matters on Stack Overflow and Twitter.
Google has made its COVID-19 datasets free to access and query. Researchers can also use Google's BigQuery ML language to create and execute machine learning models for free. Google's COVID-19 public dataset program is to remain in effect until 15 September.
Google has already had a number of measures in place to ensure that its systems stay up and running during the coronavirus crisis. For more than ten years it has carried out regular disaster recovery testing to identify and address potential problems before they happen, and its engineers operate from multiple locations. With some businesses experiencing increased online sales while consumers stay at home, Google has also activated its enhanced support structure which was developed for peak demand situations like Black Friday.
Last month, Google announced availability of Game Servers beta, which is a managed service offering the Kubernetes-based, open source Agones game server hosting project cofounded by Google and Ubisoft. Agones automatically scales Kubernetes to meet unpredictable player demand, and so its launch is conveniently timed to help cope with the increased amount of online multiplayer gaming taking place while many people are either self-isolating or on lockdown during the global coronavirus crisis.
Online gaming is helping some companies to weather the pandemic, such as Chinese technology group Tencent, which expects revenues from its games business to hold up better than that of its main rival, Alibaba, whose Taobao Tengine web server currently powers 13.7 million websites. Alibaba's co-founder, Jack Ma, has donated coronavirus test kits and masks to Europe and the US despite the effect the pandemic has had on its Tmall and Taobao retail businesses.
Finally, Netcraft has been protecting consumers and businesses from the despicable — yet inevitable — influx of coronavirus-themed cybercrime, which has recently scaled up a notch. The types of fraudulent activity that are purposely exploiting the pandemic include tax refund scams and other phishing attacks that have been modified to make use of coronavirus-themed emails, as well as smishing, password-stealing malware, advance fee scams, and masses of fake online stores purportedly selling COVID-19 vaccines, cures and related protective equipment.
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Just like Coronavirus itself, the Coronavirus-themed cybercrime it has spawned is quickly becoming a pandemic of its own. Cybercriminals have been quick to take advantage of the media attention on the story, using lures with a Coronavirus theme. Many of the attacks Netcraft has observed have used the fear and uncertainty surrounding the situation to trigger a response from their victims.
Netcraft has tracked Coronavirus-themed cybercrime since 16th March, shortly after it was declared a pandemic by the WHO. This post covers some of the trends Netcraft has observed since our previous post on the topic.
Analysis of certificate transparency logs for new certificates covering hostnames containing keywords “COVID” and “Coronavirus” shows increasing numbers of certificates are being issued for Coronavirus-themed hostnames.
Whilst some of the certificates included in the graph will be being used for legitimate purposes, many certificates – particularly those which have been registered since the outbreak started – are being used to spread disinformation, host fake shops and pharmacies, serve phishing websites and to disseminate malware.
Netcraft has tracked Coronavirus-themed cybercrime since 16th March, shortly after it was declared a pandemic by the WHO. Scammers have been quick to take advantage of the massive worldwide attention to Coronavirus (COVID-19), and are increasingly making use of it as a theme for online fraud.
Netcraft is the largest provider of anti-phishing takedowns in the world and provides countermeasures against some 75 other types of cybercrime for governments, internet infrastructure and many of the world’s largest banks and enterprises. Coronavirus-themed cybercrime accounts for around 5% of all the attacks we perform countermeasures against, even without accounting for attacks that may otherwise be attributed to existing phishing targets.
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