UN report points to a 350% rise in phishing websites at start of 2020

Criminals are exploiting the disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19, according to counterterrorism chief

There was a 350% increase in phishing websites during the first quarter of 2020, according to the United Nations, with the majority using the coronavirus pandemic as an exploit. 

The organisation's counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov told the UN Security Council that the surge in phishing sites was part of a "significant rise in cyber crime", according to ABC News

Voronkov also added that it doesn't fully understand the impact and consequences of the pandemic on global peace and security, or how it has aided organised crime and terrorism. 

"We know that terrorists are exploiting the significant disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to spread fear, hate and division and radicalise and recruit new followers," Voronkov said. "The increase in internet usage and cyber crime during the pandemic further compounds the problem."

There have been a number of reports suggesting attackers have used COVID-19 as part of phishing campaigns. In April, Google issued a warning to people working from home that coronavirus-based phishing emails were being sent out. It said that of the 100 million daily phishing emails blocked by Gmail, some 18 million were related to the pandemic. 

The World Health Organisation also reported an increase in phishing in April, with emails impersonating WHO officials targeting the general public. The scam attempted to solicit donations to a fake website after 450 active WHO email addresses and passwords were leaked online.

Voronkov, however, suggested phishing was being used to exploit "local grievances and poor governance" in many parts of the world. 

"The pandemic has the potential to act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism by exacerbating inequalities, undermining social cohesion and fueling local conflicts," Voronkov said. "We must continue our fight against terrorist groups and criminal networks to deny them the opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 crisis."

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