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Security & privacy

Hackers prey on coronavirus fears to infect your computer

The spread of the novel coronavirus out of China has shocked the world and led to a rise in travel restrictions, quarantines and paranoia. With cases emerging across the globe, people are rightfully scared about how bad the outbreak could become over the course of the year.

That said, much of the fear and controversy is overblown. Insane rumors ranging from bat soup to bioweapons have colored the online discourse surrounding the virus, and the nature of social media only helps these fake stories spread. Tap or click to see our analysis of the most absurd coronavirus stories in circulation.

With so much panic in the air, hackers are taking note. And an industrious group of them is using it to spread malware to unsuspecting victims. If you get an alert in your inbox about coronavirus cases in your neighborhood, you might want to hold off on opening it — it could be a digital virus.

Trading real viruses for electronic ones

According to a new report from USA Today, researchers with IBM X-Force and Kaspersky Labs have discovered a new malware scheme targeting Japanese internet users.

Unknown hackers are running a mass spam email campaign that tricks users into thinking they’re opening a public health bulletin. But the files that come attached are secretly malware, which the hackers are hoping you’ll open without thinking.

Here’s how it works: An email will arrive claiming to be from local authorities with information about infections in the area. A PDF or similar file will be attached to the email, but opening it will infect your computer with phishing malware. Tap or click to see how well you can spot a phishing email.

Following infection, the malware gets to work harvesting personal data. What’s more, it can potentially inject even more malicious code into your system to steal information or monitor your activities.

Presently, this cyberattack is only making the rounds in Japan. This is probably due to the sharp increase in cases in the country and nearby territories. Researchers fear the current campaign is only the beginning, and as the real virus spreads, the hackers will launch the spam campaign globally.

How can I protect myself from this phishing scheme?

This is a situation where you’ll want to keep your wits about you. The virus epidemic is undeniably bad, but spreading fear only makes the situation worse. This also goes for reading rumors or unverified material surrounding the illness and its spread.

In the case of this email, it’s important to remember the Center for Disease Control and Prevention probably doesn’t have your email, nor the email addresses of millions of other American citizens.

Were there a national emergency surrounding the virus, there’d be no way to avoid seeing it in the news. You can also bookmark the CDC’s website and check back frequently for more accurate information.

It should also go without saying that emails with attachments from unknown senders are one of the biggest red flags on the internet. You don’t need to open or read any email you aren’t 100% sure about. Doing so only puts your computer in more danger than it needs to be in.

If we get to a point where the hackers start using fake CDC websites, then it’s time to get a little more worried. Fake landing pages are one of the most dangerous phishing schemes you can encounter. Tap or click here to see how scammers used this exact trick to fool shoppers after the holidays ended.

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