IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

COVID-19 spam increased during first half of 2020

Researchers say finance was the most frequently spoofed industry, with Facebook being the most imitated brand

A fishing hook rests on top of a stack of credit cards, while a padlock sits in the background out of focus

Spam and malicious phishing emails increased during the first half of 2020, the latest research reveals, as cyber criminals moved quickly to take advantage of the COVID-19 disruption.

March and the following spring period saw a “significant increase” of malicious emails using COVID-19 issues as bait to manipulate users into exposing themselves to attacks and scams, according to F-Secure’s Attack Landscape H1 2020 report.

These coronavirus-tailored attacks ranged from attempts to trick users into ordering face masks from fake websites, to using malware with malicious attachments, the cybersecurity firm revealed.

Three-quarters of attachments in these emails also contained ‘infostealers’ – a type of malware that steals sensitive information from an infected system.

F-Secure said that a lack of operational constraints allows cyber criminals to respond quickly to breaking events and incorporate them into their campaigns.

“The earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak left a lot of people confused or worried, and attackers predictably tried to prey on their anxieties," commented Calvin Gan, a manager with F-Secure's Tactical Defense Unit. "Spotting malicious emails isn't typically a priority for busy employees, which is why attackers frequently attempt to trick them into compromising organisations."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report discovered that finance was the most frequently spoofed industry used to trick recipients in phishing emails during the first half of the year, while Facebook was found to be the most imitated brand.

Email was the most popular way of spreading malware, accounting for more than half of all infection attempts, while infostealers topped the list of malware types. The ‘Lokibot’ malware family were the most common variations, F-Secure revealed, while Telnet and SSH were the most frequently scanned ports.

Elsewhere, attacks leveraging cloud-based email services are steadily increasing, the report added, with a significant spike in phishing emails that targeted Microsoft Office 365 users occurring back in April.

"Notifications from cloud services are normal and employees are accustomed to trusting them," explained Teemu Myllykangas, director of B2B Product Management at F-Secure. “Attackers taking advantage of that trust to compromise targets is perhaps the biggest challenge companies need to address when migrating to the cloud.

"Securing inboxes in general is already a challenge, so companies should consider a multilayer security approach that combines protection technologies and employee education to reduce their exposure to email threats."

Featured Resources

Accelerating AI modernisation with data infrastructure

Generate business value from your AI initiatives

Free Download

Recommendations for managing AI risks

Integrate your external AI tool findings into your broader security programs

Free Download

Modernise your legacy databases in the cloud

An introduction to cloud databases

Free Download

Powering through to innovation

IT agility drive digital transformation

Free Download

Recommended

HPE unveils new partner programme to boost XaaS practices
channel

HPE unveils new partner programme to boost XaaS practices

28 Jun 2022
Open source giant Red Hat joins HPE GreenLake ecosystem
automation

Open source giant Red Hat joins HPE GreenLake ecosystem

28 Jun 2022
HPE wins contract to provide The Home Depot with Aruba edge services
Network & Internet

HPE wins contract to provide The Home Depot with Aruba edge services

28 Jun 2022
Virgin Media O2 Business overhauls its approach to partner development
channel

Virgin Media O2 Business overhauls its approach to partner development

24 Jun 2022

Most Popular

The UK's best cities for tech workers in 2022
Business strategy

The UK's best cities for tech workers in 2022

24 Jun 2022
LockBit 2.0 ransomware disguised as PDFs distributed in email attacks
Security

LockBit 2.0 ransomware disguised as PDFs distributed in email attacks

27 Jun 2022
Salaries for the least popular programming languages surge as much as 44%
Development

Salaries for the least popular programming languages surge as much as 44%

23 Jun 2022