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Covid-19 vaccination scams, deepfake disinformation campaigns set to increase in 2021: Avast

As per the report, Android users will be under a larger threat as Avast predicts adware attacks, fleeceware scams, and stalkerware usage along with AI-generated campaigns to fool users and spread misinformation. 

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | December 9, 2020 4:04:22 pm
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2020 has been one of the worst years hit by fake news as people tried to find cures for the Covid-19 pandemic and were fooled by websites. As vaccines make their way into the market in 2021, these scams will increase as people will be exploited by fake Covid-19 vaccination websites, as per Cybersecurity firm Avast. It is also expected that weak home office infrastructures will be more prone to ransomware attacks in 2021.

As per the report, Android users will be under greater threat as Avast predicts adware attacks, fleeceware scams, and stalkerware usage along with AI-generated campaigns to fool users and spread misinformation.

“We expect to see a continuation of ransomware attacks on healthcare institutions and the exfiltration of sensitive data, with attacks specifically targeting pharmaceutical companies and institutions to harvest sensitive customer information for blackmailing and industry espionage. Companies in other sectors will be at risk of falling victim to targeted attacks via their VPN infrastructure and remote desktop applications they may be using to connect employees working from home,” said Jakub Kroustek, Threat Labs Team Lead at Avast.

In an earlier report by Avast, it was revealed that hackers targetted vulnerable hospitals in the Czech Republic, Germany and other countries forcing them to pay the ransom in these troubling times. In November, Microsoft also reported that there were three-state sponsored hacker groups which attacked seven Covid-19 vaccine makers. These three groups were Russia’s Strontium (Fancy Bear) and North Korea’s Zinc (Lazarus Group) and Cerium.

“Individuals, on the other hand, should be wary of scams, specifically around the topic of vaccinations. If people see vaccination offerings circulating on the internet, they need to keep in mind that the sale is likely too good to be true, as vaccinations should be distributed through official sources only. People should trust their local doctors and medical institutions for Covid-19 information and vaccinations.”

It will be a good idea to check the authenticity of claims of websites that may seem fishy at first glance to prevent oneself from getting exposed to adware attacks and fleeceware scams. These things should be kept in mind especially when using work laptops and PCs as there is a higher risk of cyberattacks on enterprise VPN infrastructure and providers that intend to steal confidential information, intellectual property and customer data.

In the year 2020, Avast expects various conspiracy theories around the Covid-19 pandemic, 5G and other hot topics to grow as well. With the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI), in 2021, deepfake videos can be used to fool a larger audience as they are more likely to believe a more promiment personality.

“Deepfakes will likely reach a quality next year where they can be actively used in disinformation campaigns. Conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, such as its alleged spread via 5G, could be reemphasized via deepfake videos, for example wrongly showing politicians as conspirators. The pandemic, the resulting increase in people working from home, and higher reliance on online connectivity as well as the growing economic pressure, combined with uncertainty among people, are likely to feed into the effectiveness of the use of deepfakes to spread disinformation,” said Petr Somol, AI Research Director at Avast.

Avast’s 2020 report also said that adware was the most dominant malware out of all threats on Android devices. In the first quarter of the year 2020, it was responsible for 50 percent of all Android threats followed by 27 percent and 29 percent in the next two quarters respectively. This trend is expected to continue and grow in the next year.

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