Boredom during the pandemic lead to an increase in cybercrime

The coronavirus pandemic brought many changes and challenges to our lives.

But with travel restrictions, lockdowns, and decreased social interaction, boredom has inevitably seeped into our everyday schedules.

While most of us binged TV shows, tried picking up new hobbies, or just succumbed to anxiety, cybercriminals latched onto our digital lives.

Cybercrime on the rise

When most of the world’s population had to stay at home and find ways of working online, police reported a sharp decrease in theft and break-ins. But the situation has been very different online.

Because most business and governmental institutions weren’t ready to go digital, the ones that did had weak cybersecurity measures in place. And so, cybercriminals used the pandemic to launch social-engineered attacks, phishing, and other coronavirus-related scams.

As a result:

      • Coronavirus phishing attacks have been on the rise ever since March 2020, promoting fake news and fake cures.
      • Researchers reported a 176% increase in new malware attacks disguised as trusted Microsoft Office file types and PDF files.
      • IoT malware attacks were 50% more frequent.
      • A myriad of illicit trade markets appeared on the dark web, offering a wide variety of services.

Now, stats show an increase in both user activity and traffic on the biggest cybercrime forums.

Boredom at fault

One of the interesting aspects of this wave of attacks is that criminals name boredom as their number one motivator.

So, there is some qualitative evidence that, within cybercrime communities, the boredom of lockdown (and a change to the daily routines of these communities) may be behind increased posting volume and activity. To establish this as a wider phenomenon, we analyze the frequency of discussions of boredom over time on this cybercrime forum. As can be observed, there is a spike in posts using the words’ boredom’, ‘boring,’ and ‘bored’ among the user community of this forum, which coincided with the beginning of lockdown and which appears to have tailed off.

Such posts soared during lockdown times in March and April 2020, when most people had their lives turned upside down. Because of new routines, timestamps on cybercrime forums changed. In stark contrast to previous years, people have now been commenting during what used to be regular business hours.

Number of posts containing words related to boredom over time. Graph from the Cambridge COVID Briefing Paper #4.

A type of attack that’s on the rise is the Denial of Service, DoS. It’s meant to shut down a machine or a network by flooding it with so much traffic it crashes. No wonder that, in cybercriminal slang, this is referred to as a stresser service.

Reports show that attacks increased from early March to mid-May in 2020, before settling down a bit. But websites offering DoS services still sign up about 16,000 new users every day, so the threat is far from gone.

Malicious domains taking over

At the beginning of the lockdown, ProPrivacy, a leading platform for digital freedom, started monitoring malicious domains that were popping up to profit off the pandemic.

Their results show that malicious activity has tracked closely with the spread of the disease around the globe, tied to specific events. For example, when the World Health Organization designated an official name for the virus, there was a significant spike in COVID-19 malicious activities. The same happened when everyone was affected by the masks’ shortage.

To get more info on the number of malicious domains tied to the coronavirus, hover over the bubbles in the graph above. To learn all about mapping malicious activity throughout the pandemic, head to ProPrivacy.

Stay safe

With so many cybercriminals bored and looking for new targets, the market is witnessing its biggest boom in a long time.

You need to be proactive and protect your digital identity, especially since many of your cybersecurity worries can be solved with a VPN.

Short for Virtual Private Network, VPN software hides your IP address and encrypts your internet connection. This helps cover your digital footprint and makes you anonymous online.

Since your original IP address is no longer visible, your connection is safe from IP-based attacks, like the DoS attacks. And because everything is encrypted, you’re safe from Man-in-the-Middle attacks even on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.

A good VPN will also prevent you from visiting unsecured HTTP websites, where it’s easier to get infected with malware.

Combine that with strong password security, learn how to spot threats, protect your vulnerable IoT devices, and you’re good to go.

Cybercriminals are rarely caught, much less convicted. But by taking matters into your own hands, you can always protect your digital life, even during a pandemic.

What do you do to stay safe online? Let me know in the comments down below.

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

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