Security experts at Google have identified over a dozen government-backed hacking groups trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to fuel malware and phishing attempts.
Each day, Google experts find more than 18 million new Gmail messages that use the virus as a springboard on which to offer supposed deals when, in reality, they contain malicious hacking attempts.
In a blog post, Google said the attackers’ attempts included impersonating health organizations and major fast-food companies in an effort to trick people into downloading malware. Many messages are simply sent to Gmail’s Spam folder without the users ever seeing them.
Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) said hackers had been targeting the World Health Organization (WHO), as revealed in early April by Reuters. That activity, Google writes, is consistent with the work of an entity going by the name of “Charming Kitten.”
WHO and other health organizations have been frequently targeted by hackers seeking information about the virus. In those cases, Google said the hackers link to a page asking officials to log into a convincing replica of the WHO website or another similar site, which would be a deceptive move. In those cases, the fraudulent emails from hackers talk of virus infection spikes and ask for shared research from the officials.
Google actually saw a slight decline of hacking attempts in March from earlier this year, which it said was likely the result of the global slowdown and quarantine efforts that have stalled the rest of the world.
In response to the hacking threats, Google said it is providing over $200,000 in grants to researchers working to keep people’s data safe.
Hacking attempts related to the virus have been abundant, also affecting fellow tech giant Amazon, where the retailer has had to work quickly to remove mountains of price-gouged or counterfeit items related to the virus.