How Vaccine-Related Phishing Attacks Are Threatening Your Organization


Woman getting vaccinated. Vaccine-related phishing scams are on the rise.

Written by: Jay H.

The rollout of coronavirus vaccines offers hope for many to resume normality soon. However, many people have questions regarding when, where, and how they will receive their first doses. Amongst the confusion, attackers have seized the opportunity to exploit the situation and launched waves of vaccine-related phishing scams.

Vaccine-Related Domains Registered

According to a recent blog post by Check Point Research, the number of domain registrations containing the word “vaccine” has significantly increased over the past four months. Since November last year, there have been 7,056 new vaccine-related domain registrations, of which 294 were deemed potentially dangerous.

To illustrate the spike in domain registrations, Check Point graphed below the number of weekly new vaccine-related domains between July 2020 and February 2021.

Graph showing weekly new vaccine related domains between July 2020 and February 2021.

Image credit: Check Point

Spear-Phishing Attack Techniques

Furthermore, research conducted by Barracuda found an increase in targeted spear-phishing attacks using vaccine-related emails.

“After pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna announced the availability of vaccines in November 2020, the number of vaccine-related spear-phishing attacks increased by 12%,” the author explained. “By the end of January, the average number of vaccine-related spear-phishing attacks was up 26% since October.”

Threat actors primarily use two spear-phishing techniques to carry out vaccine scams: brand impersonation and business email compromise.

Brand Impersonation

Vaccine-related phishing emails are impersonating well-known brands or organizations to swindle credentials from unsuspecting recipients. These emails link to websites promising early access to vaccines, offering vaccines for payments, or imitating health care professionals requesting personal information to confirm eligibility for a vaccine. Attackers then capture any personal data entered and sell or further exploit it.

Business Email Compromise

Attackers are utilizing business email compromise to impersonate individuals within an organization or their partners. Recently, vaccines have been the topic of many of these scam emails. For example, Barracuda found that scammers were impersonating HR specialists within a business, claiming that the organization had secured vaccines for their employees.

Protect Your Organization

To protect your organization against vaccine-related fraud, Barracuda offered the following tips:

1. Take advantage of artificial intelligence. Scammers are adapting email tactics to bypass gateways and spam filters, so it’s critical to have a solution that detects and protects against spear-phishing attacks, including brand impersonation, business email compromise, and email account takeover. Deploy purpose-built technology that doesn’t rely solely on looking for malicious links or attachments. Using machine learning to analyze normal communication patterns within your organization allows the solution to spot anomalies that may indicate an attack.

2. Deploy account-takeover protection. Don’t just focus on external email messages. Some of the most devastating and successful spear-phishing attacks originate from compromised internal accounts. Be sure scammers aren’t using your organization as a base camp to launch these attacks. Deploy technology that uses artificial intelligence to recognize when accounts have been compromised, and that remediates in real-time by alerting users and removing malicious emails sent from compromised accounts.

3. Train staffers to recognize and report attacks. Educate your users about spear-phishing attacks. Provide employees with up-to-date user awareness training about vaccine-related phishing, seasonal scams, and other potential threats. Ensure staffers can recognize the latest attacks and know how to report them to IT right away. Also, use phishing simulation for email, voicemail, and SMS to train users to identify cyberattacks, test the effectiveness of your training, and evaluate the most vulnerable users.

4. Set up strong internal policies to prevent fraud. All companies should establish and regularly review existing policies, to ensure that personal and financial information is handled properly. Help employees avoid making costly mistakes by creating guidelines and putting procedures in place to confirm all email requests for wire transfers and payment changes. Moreover, require in-person or telephone confirmation and/or approval from multiple people for all financial transactions.

Partner With An MSP

In addition to the above tips, working with a credible managed service provider such as Design2Web IT gives your organization the defences it needs against attackers. Contact us today and see how we can help protect your firm.

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