More than 16 million Covid-related cyber threats were detected in 2020

Ruth C. | March 16, 2021

The year 2020 will be forever remembered for the Covid-19 pandemic, which swiftly overtook the world and altered our lives forever. The pandemic has also affected the cybersecurity landscape — a new wave of cyber threats emerged where criminals leveraged Covid-19 to launch attacks. 

According to the data analyzed by the Atlas VPN team, 16.4 million Covid-19 related cyber threats were detected online in 2020. The data is based on the Trend Micro Annual Cybersecurity report. 

Out of all the Covid-19 related cyber threats found last year, nearly 89% or around 14.5 million attacks were malicious spam. Spam is one of the easiest and most accessible cyber attacks methods, which may be why it was the favorite among most cybercriminals.

Common spam email subject lines ranged from very vague, such as  “COVID-19 issue”, “Important message on COVID-19”, to more specific ones, such as “COVID-19/FluA+B Antigen Combo Rapid Test”, which is trying to get readers attention by offering a highly sought after test for Covid-19. 

Next up are harmful URLs. There were 1.85 million dangerous URLs found last year, which made up a little over 11% of all Covid-19 themed cyber threats in 2020. 

Finally, less than 1% or close to 33 thousand of last year’s online threats that leveraged the pandemic were malware. While effective, this cyberattack method requires more advanced technical know-how, which could have been the reason why it was the least employed among the three.

Most of the Covid-related cyber threat detections came from the US

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the whole world leaving no stone unturned, however, some countries suffered more than others. Generally, most of the Covid-themed online threat detections came from highly affected countries. 

The majority of such threats were found in the United States — the country most affected by the pandemic. In total, 6.3 million or 38% of all last year's Covid-related cyberattacks were detected in the US.

Germany occupies the second spot in the list. Nearly 2.4 million or 15% of all pandemic-related online threat detections of 2020 came from the country. 

Meanwhile, in France, more than 1.5 million cyber threats leveraging Covid-19 were found. They made up 9% of all such attacks in 2020.

Next up is Australia. There 770 thousand Covid-19 themed threats were identified, which account for 5% of all pandemic-related cyber threats of 2020.

Not far behind Australia is the United Kingdom. In 2020, more than 672 thousand online attacks using Covid-19 pandemic were detected — 4% of all such last year's threats.

In total, 28% of Covid-19 online threats came from the three biggest European countries in terms of their population: Germany, France, and the UK. They also belong to the top ten countries with the most Covid-19 cases. 

How to avoid falling into Covid-19 cyber traps

The pandemic has created the perfect storm for cybercriminals. First of all, a bulk of companies were forced to shift to remote work, and less prepared ones became a quick gain for online attackers. Secondly, the general panic and fear of the pandemic simply made people more susceptible to such threats.  

As the fight with the Covid-19 is still ongoing, it is important to stay vigilant and avoid falling into cybercriminals' traps. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Be wary of Covid apps. Never download apps from an untrusted or unknown source. Such apps may hide malware or spyware. Just because the app claims to help you guard against Covid does not make it credible. The same advice applies to other files as well.

Do not click on suspicious links. Spam and malicious URLs make up the majority of Covid themed cyber threats. Cybercriminals often use attention-grabbing messages, urgent language, and too good to be true promises to make you click on their link. However, if you do, you might end up installing malware on your device.

Keep your software up to date. Always update the software on your devices as soon as possible to make sure it contains the latest security patches. Cybercriminals are always looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, do not give them a chance to.

Back up your files. Make sure to make copies of your files regularly. This way, even if you experience the worst-case scenario where your files get hacked, you have backups.

If you would like to read more on the Covid-19 related threats, visit our previous articles on the topic: 

Over 35,500 coronavirus-related websites reported as scam

Coronavirus scams exploit fears with phishing and malware attacks

Alex T.

Ruth C.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Interested in cybercrime, online security, and privacy-related topics.

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Covid-19spammalware