Cyber Criminals Exploit Pandemic to Carry Out Attacks in Latin America

Cyber Criminals Exploit Pandemic to Carry Out Attacks in Latin America

By Gustavo Arias Retana/Diálogo
June 17, 2020

The pandemic is the perfect opportunity for cybercrime groups, which take advantage of the increase in people working from home due to the lockdown. The weak digital security measures that many companies and users have create an ideal environment for data theft and fraud.

“COVID-19 is causing an unprecedented increase in the number of internet users in the region. Most of them were not prepared to work from home on a long-term basis, but employers had to make urgent decisions. Unfortunately, most people lack basic tools to keep their online [work] secure,” Esteban Jiménez, a specialist in information technology strategic management at the European University of the Atlantic in Spain, told Diálogo. “Much less do they have the ability to operate their organizations’ critical infrastructure remotely. Cyber criminals are exploiting this situation, knowing that people [use] financial infrastructures and carry out banking transactions from home.”

Users have experienced more scams and personal data theft, “because they are more exposed due to increased time on the internet, as they perform most daily activities online,” Jiménez said.

Transnational crime

Roberto Lemaître, a computer engineer at the University of Costa Rica, explains that one of the characteristics of cyberattacks in Latin America is that they respond to the dynamics of international organized criminal groups, which is why attacks in different countries are so similar.

Among the cases detected in Latin America is a malicious software that simulates a world map with information on the expansion of COVID-19 that steals passwords from users, says Krebson Security, a website that specializes in online research and security.

The Spanish government’s Office of Internet Security says that criminals exploit the pandemic to deceive people and obtain their personal data and bank account information using the following methods: emails that install malware; “expert” recommendations to solve the pandemic that include links that lead to embezzlement; impersonation of institutions such as the World Health Organization, and many others, asking for donations; fake links to claim “corona checks” or aid coupons; fraudulent job offers; technical support; and fake ads for personal protection items, such as face masks, that redirect users to fraudulent sites.

“Cybercrime is getting increasingly organized, oftentimes more organized than those who combat it; this is seen in reports that reflect an increase in cybercrime,” Lemaître told Diálogo. “Cybercrime moves a lot of money during the pandemic. It’s a very attractive business for transnational organized crime groups, a world trend that does not spare [our] region.”

The specialists consulted recommend that Latin American users, companies, and governments promote digital awareness about the risks that cyberattacks pose to users.

“People must keep their information secure. Companies, governments, and users must invest more in quality software for their devices,” Jiménez said. “Frequently, attacks are not directed or aimed at a particular user, but they occur due to carelessness and a lack of investment in legitimate software.”

“Citizen education is essential to prevent the advance of this fraudulent activity, which can only be reduced with digital culture processes. Another solution is providing training for companies and public institutions to respond to the change that all countries face,” Lemaître added.