- Work-related “phishing” is the biggest cybercrime in the world, the FBI warns, and it is increasingly aimed at remote workers.
- A new wave of emails seek personal information in the guise of providing an economic stimulus check from the government.
- Remote workers are particularly vulnerable because they are often working alone, surrounded by distractions, and without nearby colleagues to consult.
- Recipients should avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments, and can always forward suspicious emails to their IT teams, experts say.
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New email attacks seeking to exploit the COVID-19 crisis are pouring into remote workers’ inboxes, and experts are warning against scams that cite the latest developments related to the deadly virus.
The FBI is warning against scam emails seeking to exploit recession fears by requesting personal information in order to supposedly provide economic stimulus checks for Americans via new US legislation. “Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money,” the bureau says.
Business-related phishing scams, which disguise malicious links that steal usernames, passwords, and money within corporate emails, stole some $1.7 billion from businesses and employees last year, the FBI says.
These scams are now targeting employees who are out of office as remote work in the US has doubled, year-over-year, according to the cloud-computing security company Netskope. Some of the email attacks have been vast in scale. The cybersecurity firm Proofpoint has identified scam emails being sent in batches of 200,000 at a time.
Nearly 418,000 have been infected by the novel coronavirus worldwide, 18,600-plus are dead, and the US is the third-worst-hit country, experts estimated Wednesday.
Current business email attacks that target remote workers include emails that purport to be from an out-of-office boss, warns Tim Sadler, CEO of Tessian, an anti-phishing company. “Impersonating a person in power is a common tactic, and attackers may use remote work as an excuse to convince employees to do something unusual,” such as opening a malicious attachment, forwarding a scam email or providing a Social Security number.
Sadler says attackers may also send remote workers emails messages that claim there’s something wrong with a payment to a health insurance provider, preying upon virus concerns.
Another recent wave of convincing emails supposedly from health organizations are using the same language used in legitimate communications.
Researchers at the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike have uncovered emails impersonating the World Health Organization that requested Bitcoin donations to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund – the name of a legitimate fund created by the WHO. “The body of one message (shown below) appears to be copied directly from the official website of the fund,” CrowdStrike notes.
Because many recipients are out of office, the latest wave of highly targeted scams – known as “spear phishing” – may be especially effective, Sadler says. “Advanced spear-phishing attacks collect personal information about a specific target in order to make emails appear more familiar, increasing their chances of the victim clicking on a link.”
“People are working on smaller screens and sharing spaces – an increase in distractions can lead to mistakes when working with sensitive data,” Sadler says. He urges recipients of suspicious emails to avoid downloading attachments or clicking on links, and to look closely at email addresses and links for subtle misspellings or inconsistencies.
Stan Lowe, global chief information security officer at the cloud-computing security firm Zscaler, reminds remote workers that their company’s security team is just a few clicks away. “If you’re not sure, always forward to your IT security team for them to take a look.”