Hackers are attempting to use the roll our of COVID-19 vaccination programs around the world by launching a host of COVID-19 vaccine phishing campaigns in order to illegally obtain private protected data including passwords details for networks and databases and also to speed up the distribution of their malware emails.

A number of US-based government bodies have already made malwares warnings for businesses and consumers public. These agencies the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

These malware attacks will be disguised in a number of different ways. Those already identified include offers for early access to COVID-19 vaccine programmes, seeking a payment to skip the line and move to the head of the waiting list, and an offer for email recipients to register for another waiting once they hand over some private personal information – which will later be used to infiltrate personal account with contact details and financial information.

Email is the chosen vector for this COVID-19 vaccine phishing scams but it will be no surprise to see that there are also advertising being conducted across a spectrum of different websites, social media platforms, instant messaging platforms and even using phone calls or SMS messages. The vast majority of these campaigns will take aim at individual consumers but is is expected they they could infiltrate business databases should employees access any of the medium mentioned previously while using their work network – or if the email land in their corporate inboxes.

The scam emails will most of the time have links to web portals, hidden in email attachments to mask them from antivirus software, where information will be gathered that can be used to carry out fraud. In a lot of cases Office documents will be deployed to delivering malware through via malicious macros. Mostly, these emails will claim to be trusted entities or people. COVID-19 vaccine scam emails are likely to disguise themselves as healthcare providers, health insurance firms, vaccine centers, and federal, state, or local public health bodies. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 there have been many cases of fraudsters impersonating the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Covid-19 related phishing campaigns.

Recently the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that two websites have been seized that claimed to be vaccine developers. The domains were practically identical to the authentic websites of two biotechnology firms working on vaccine development. The malicious content has been deleted but there is a strong chance that there are a huge number of other domains registered and used in COVID-19 vaccine phishing scams yet to be deployed.

Alerts have also been made public in relation to the dangers of ransomware attacks that take aim to leverage the interest in COVID-19 vaccines and supply the hackers with access to databases that will allow them to launch their attacks.

There are four important measures that companies should deploy to address the danger of being tricked by these scams. Since email is widely used, it is crucial to have a strong spam filtering solution configured. Spam filters access blacklists of malicious email and IP addresses to tackle malicious emails, but since new IP addresses are always constantly being created for these hacking campaigns, it is important to opt for a solution that features machine learning. Machine learning assists in spotting phishing attacks from IP addresses that have not previously been used for malicious purposes and to discover zero-day phishing threats. Sandboxing is also crucial in the fight against zero-day malware threats that have yet to have their signatures incorporated into the virus definition lists of antivirus engines.

Even though spam filters can identify and block emails that include malicious links, a web filtering solution is also a very important tool for this. Web filters are used to manage the access to websites that employees wish to view and stops visits to malicious websites through general web browsing, redirects, and clicks on malicious links in emails. Web filters are always being updated through threat intelligence feeds to put protection in place against recently discovered malicious URLs.

Companies should not forget to conduct end user training and should constantly run refresher training sessions for staff to help them spot phishing attacks and malicious emails. Phishing simulation exercises are also good for evaluating the effectiveness of security awareness training.

Multi-factor authentication should also be implemented as an additional security measure. Should credentials be illegally obtained, multi-factor authentication will help to see to it that stolen details cannot be used to remotely log onto accounts.

Once these measures are put in place companies will be safe from the majority of malware attacks, including COVID-19 vaccine phishing attacks.

Contact the TitanHQ team as soon as you can to find out more about spam filtering, web filtering, and safeguarding your company from malware and phishing attacks.