Hackers are increasingly using vaccine-related emails in their targeted spear-phishing attacks according to a new report by Barracuda Networks, a cloud-enabled security solutions company. Barracuda conducted an analysis between October 2020 and January 2021.
The research has revealed that while previously cyber criminals capitalised on the global pandemic with coronavirus-related phishing attacks, they are now shifting their focus towards leveraging the vaccine to steal money and personal information.
The analysis found that the number of vaccine-related phishing attacks increased by 12% after pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna announced the availability of vaccines in November 2020. By the end of January 2021, the average number of attacks was up by 26%.
Cyber criminals are taking advantage of the heightened fear and uncertainty prevailing around the COVID-19 vaccine to launch attacks using urgency, social engineering, and other common tactics to lure victims.
Barracuda researchers identified two predominant types of spear-phishing attacks using vaccine-related themes: Brand impersonation and business email compromise.
Business email compromise, which has been one of the most damaging email threats in the past few years, cost businesses over $26bn, is now being used by attackers for vaccine-related topics.
Barracuda Networks India’s Murali Urs told financial daily Business Line, “At Barracuda, we can identify email messages coming not just from outside the organisations but also internal communication. As a result, a lot of fraudulent messages are being sent internally, usually from compromised accounts.
“Cyber criminals mostly use legitimate accounts to send mass phishing and spam campaigns to as many individuals as possible before their activity is detected and they are locked out of an account.”
Mr Urs said, “That’s why when looking at these lateral phishing attacks over time, we see these huge spikes of activity. Interestingly, vaccine-related lateral phishing attacks spiked around the same time that major COVID-19 vaccines were announced and approved around the world.” A