Published 18-03-2021
| Article appears in April 2021 Issue

How to stay safe online as scammers target vaccine information seekers


Online scammers are quick to exploit any opportunity where people are confused or vulnerable – such as when there is a pandemic. Knowing that the web is often the first port of call for people seeking information, they register domains and populate them with information that people will be drawn to. But those curious online surfers are exposing themselves to a lot more than they bargained for.

All it takes is for an unwary person to key in details such as their email address and password, and the scammer could then have the keys to one or more of that person’s private or work accounts – which they can then sell on, or exploit for their own profit.

Check Point Research (CPR) confirms that the number of domains featuring the word “vaccine” in their title has significantly increased over the past four months, as the global vaccine rollout was being prepared and launched. Since the beginning of November 2020, until now, CPR documented 7,056 new vaccine-related domains, of which 294 were deemed potentially dangerous.

Compared to the previous period, between July and October, CPR documented only 1,773 new domains, where 228 were deemed potentially dangerous. In effect, domain registrations increased by 300% throughout the two time periods, while websites deemed dangerous by CPR increased by 29%.

CPR has provided the following tips for staying safe online:

  • Watch for misspellings – Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain. For example, a .co instead of .com. Misspelling in domains are a strong giveaway that deception is at play.
  • Beware of “buy vaccines online” offers – As tempting as it may be while many of us wait to receive our vaccinations, these offers are virtually guaranteed to be a scam.
  • Never share your credentials – Credential theft is a common goal of cyberattacks. Many people reuse the same usernames and passwords across many different accounts, so stealing the credentials for a single account is likely to give an attacker access to a number of the user’s online accounts. Never share your account credentials and don’t re-use passwords.
  • Always be suspicious of password reset emails – If you receive an unsolicited password reset email, always visit the website directly (don’t click on embedded links) and change your password to something different on that site (and any other sites with the same password). By clicking on a link, you can reset the password to that account to something new. Not knowing your password is, of course, also the problem that cybercriminals face when trying to gain access to your online accounts. By sending a fake password reset email that directs you to a lookalike phishing site, they can convince you to type in your account credentials and send those to them.
  • Always note the language in the email – Social engineering techniques are designed to take advantage of human nature. This includes the fact that people are more likely to make mistakes when they’re in a hurry and are inclined to follow the orders of people in positions of authority. Phishing attacks commonly use these techniques to convince their targets to ignore their potential suspicions about an email and click on a link or open an attachment.






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