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How to dodge cybercriminals & hackers during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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As the number of worldwide internet users continues to rise, so too is the amount of cybercrime.

The price tag is high, according to research group Cybersecurity Ventures, which predicts that cybercrime will cost the global economy $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015.

It’s a growing threat that was addressed at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting last year, with calls for a united front against cybercrime and better public-private-partnership cooperation.

With many people in lockdown and working online during the COVID-19 pandemic, hackers have spotted a window of opportunity.

The main method of outreach is via phishing emails, containing messages of fear or false financial promises, which often demand an immediate response from recipients.

Hackers are also targeting victims through social media, issuing fake warnings which state: “Your account will be deleted due to fraudulent use within 24 hours, if you don’t act now!”

Such lures are meant to prompt users to click on malicious links, which give hackers access to their personal information.

Buyer beware

Egyptian national and Abu Dhabi resident, Ashraf Nisseem, was hacked while trying to buy a chair online.

His $23 purchase from Wish.com was compromised, the item was replaced with a toy pistol and a necklace, and the goods were redirected to Algeria.

The 48-year-old believes that the culprit may have been a young person, and therefore blames the commercial platform for allowing the fraud to happen.

“The website should be secured, they shouldn’t allow a child to hack it,” says Nisseem. “And then, when there is such an incident, there should be quick [action], a sense of urgency.”

Mohamed Belarbi speaks to Inspire Middle East

In general, the Middle East has been a target of choice for hackers due to the perception of ill-equipped cybersecurity systems, says Mohamed Belarbi, the CEO of cyber solutions company, Vul9.

This is, in part, due to relaxed capital control measures, pertaining to the easy flow of money in and out of countries.

“In the case of the Middle East, where there are not as many capital restrictions, hackers would rather hack banks here in this region. Transfer the money out to rogue accounts, as they say, and be able to collect their prize,” says Belarbi.

Digital pandemic

The number of phishing scams and website attacks, related to the COVID19 virus, have escalated exponentially around the world, according to Trend Micro.

​The global solutions provider says that virus related attacks multiplied more than 220 times from February to March alone.

During the first quarter of 2020, the GCC recorded about nine thousand email spam attacks, ranking it as the fourth highest region in Asia.

Country-wise, the UAE led the pack, with more than three thousand COVID-19 related attacks.

Two people access their phone

Overall, says Belarbi, people should “always be paranoid.” As their daily activities, and personal information increasingly becomes more intertwined with the digital landscape and social media.

“You really want to be a step ahead of hackers, and never even give them an ounce of a chance to compromise you,” he warns.

Belarbi’s advice is to be ‘cybercrime conscious’, meaning not using public Wifi while logging in to personal accounts. He also recommends verifying email addresses before corresponding with them, plus maximizing social media security settings.

With stricter habits like these, he says, nearly 99% of all hacking attempts could be prevented.

SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A DIGITAL WORLD

Hamed from Egypt posted a picture of a technological space he calls his "world".