On April 23, 2021, Jeremy Grant was quoted in Above the Law on the rise of cybercriminals as the COVID-19 pandemic drives a surge in online activity. According to the article, losses due to identity theft rose from $502.5 billion in 2019 to $712.4 billion in 2020, an increase of 42 percent.
“This pandemic forced 10 years of digital transformation in three or four months,” said Grant. When the pandemic hit, companies had to scramble to secure their networks. On the consumer side, there was “direct fraud that came with the virtual elimination of in-person transactions,” Grant noted. Everything from government services to the financial sector and retail shifted online. Criminals took advantage because a lot of the tools used to verify identity on the internet “aren’t as sophisticated as we want them to be.”
State unemployment systems were hit especially hard because most of them don’t have good online verification tools, Grant noted. A March update from the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that “at least $89 billion of the estimated $896 billion in [unemployment benefits provided in response to the pandemic] could be paid improperly, with a significant portion attributable to fraud.”
Grant also reported that phishing attacks have skyrocketed. In addition to pandemic-related messages, the lure might be pornography, hair loss remedies, “anything they think people will click on,” he said. For a long time, inserting malware onto a person’s machine and phishing were neck and neck as the preferred methods of cybercriminals, Grant explained. “Then we hit an inflection point when phishing grew exponentially.” Malware requires a certain level of sophistication, he said. Phishing is easier. If a cybercriminal “sends thousands of emails and gets only a small percentage to click, it’s still a good result.”
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