Speaking as part of an online panel hosted by think tank, Aspen Institute, Federal Bureau of Investigations, or FBI, deputy assistant director, Tonya Ugoretz, revealed that the number of cybercrime reports received by the agency has more than tripled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Whereas they might typically receive 1,000 complaints a day through their internet portal, they're now receiving something like 3,000 to 4,000 complaints a day,” stated Ugoretz, adding: “Not all of those are COVID-related, but a good number of those are.”

The FBI agent noted that “there was a brief shining moment when we hoped [...] ‘gosh cybercriminals are beings too,’ and maybe they would think that targeting or taking advantage of this pandemic for personal profit might be beyond the pale.” 

“Sadly that has not been the case,” she adds.

Cybercrime proliferates amid COVID-19 pandemic

The dark web also appeared to offer a ‘brief shining moment’ recently — with darknet market Monopoly announcing permanent bans for users utilizing COVID-19 as a marketing tool, a few ransomware operators pledging not to target healthcare organizations, and dark web researchers noting numerous expressions of solidarity with victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, other ransomware operators have escalated the targeting of hospitals. Some darknet markets have become overcrowded with listings for N95 masks and fraudulent COVID-19 cures. Scammers have manipulated fears surrounding the virus to fleece victims at every possible opportunity.

"They really run the gamut. Everything from setting up fraudulent internet domains,” stated Ugoretz. 

“We've seen people set up fraudulent COVID charities, promise delivery of masks and other equipment, and then deliver fraudulent loans, extortion, etc.. So pretty much, sadly, anything you can think of — cybercriminals are quite creative.”

FBI notes state-sponsored attacks on research institutions

Ugoretz notes that threat actors have hailed from state-sponsored activities as well as profit-motivated hackers, stating: 

“On the nation-state side, as you can imagine, countries have a very high desire for information [on] how other countries are responding but also about things like research on vaccines, what's happening in the US healthcare sector, and our research institutes.”

“We have certainly seen reconnaissance activity and some intrusions into some of those institutions,” she states, adding that entities publicly identified as working on COVID-related research have seen an exaggerated increase in attacks.