Europol Warns of Cybercrime Increase During Coronavirus Pandemic

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A spike this past year in cybercrime is being attributed largely to the coronavirus pandemic. Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, warned of the attacks in its annual Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment.

Europol Assessment

Europol’s assessment pointed to ransomware attacks as a continuing threat, and the attacks are being pointed toward health care organizations. This means while your loved one is in the hospital fighting COVID-19, there are hackers targeting the hospital, stealing data and threatening to auction it off if the ransom isn’t paid.

Other than the ransomware, there has also been an increase in the distribution of child abuse material online during the pandemic. Additional concerns include an increase in SIM swapping and dark web use.

“Ransomware, in particular, remains a priority threat encountered by cyber investigators across the EU,” wrote Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle in the report’s introduction.

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“The amount of online child sexual abuse material detected continues to increase, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had serious consequences for the investigative capacity of law enforcement authorities.”

Also seeing an increase are phishing emails and online scams. Europol noted that cybercriminals are targeting people who are vulnerable during the pandemic. Additionally, disinformation has been easier to spread during the pandemic since it’s such an uncertain time.

“Users become vulnerable and receptive to disinformation and fake news due to the paradoxical oversaturation with available information combined with a perceived lack of trustworthy sources of news that reinforce some of the users’ preconceived notions and beliefs,” reads the report. “Disinformation can also be linked to cybercrime in efforts to make social engineering and phishing attacks more impactful.”

The report is “an essential resource for EU’s law enforcement and policy makers,” said Edvardas Šileris, head of the European Cybercrime Centre, with an added note that “cybercrime is an evolution, not a revolution.”

Global Warnings

The same day Europol released the report, international law enforcement agency Interpol warned of ongoing online cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic as well. This called out phishing emails, ransomware, and online crimes against children as key threats.

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“Even the most Internet-savvy person can fall for a cybercriminal’s tricks, so it’s important that everyone keeps their guard up when navigating the virtual world,” said Interpol’s director of cybercrime, Craig Jones, in a statement.

This shows that cybercrime isn’t just elevated in the European Union — it’s throughout the world — during the coronavirus pandemic. Health care organizations that are busy responding to the health emergency are pulled into it, forcing them to make a choice sometimes to ignore the cyber threat to deal with human lives.

Last week Microsoft reported that “COVID-themed attacks” were going after health care and vaccine research groups, with attacks discovered by at least 16 “nation states actors.”

The U.S. Treasury Department also sent a warning of the ransomware dangers. Over the past two years, they have crippled the Atlanta, Baltimore, and New Orleans governments.

While it’s understandable that nefarious individuals are targeting health care for their cybercrime activities, the increase in child pornography during the coronavirus pandemic just doesn’t compute. It may have to remain a mystery.

Read on to learn what the four most common cyberattacks against older people are.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

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