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Justice Department Orders Crackdown on Scams, Hacks Exploiting Coronavirus Fears



(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Online scammers and hackers are increasingly trying to capitalize on the coronavirus outbreak, and it’s bad enough that US Attorney General William Barr is telling federal officials to prioritize cracking down on these nefarious activities. 

On Monday, Barr sent a letter to US attorney offices across the country, ordering them to investigate and prosecute “all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.”

“In particular, there have been reports of individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud, reports of phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Barr wrote in his letter. 

Indeed, security researchers have been noticing new waves of phishing emails that pretend to be public health organizations offering information on the coronavirus outbreak. But in reality, the emails are a ruse, and actually contain a link or attachment to download malware. Security firm Proofpoint, for example, has observed hackers using emails with the subject line “Please help us with Fighting corona-virus,” to trick US users into downloading a piece of software that’s actually malware capable of stealing passwords and credit card information from a browser. 

In the same letter, Barr also pointed to recent reports about “malware being inserted onto mobile apps designed to track the spread of the virus.” On Friday, a security researcher uncovered one such Android app called “COVID19 Tracker App” that’s actually a piece of ransomware designed to lock down access to your phone. To free it, you’ll have to pay up $100 in Bitcoin. 

In his letter, Barr said, “The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated.”

To stay safe and informed about the coronavirus, check out the CDC’s website, which is constantly being updated with new information about the outbreak. John Hopkins University also has a global coronavirus tracker webpage that’s being updated daily with the latest stats on confirmed cases. 

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