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The Massive Shift to Cyber Crime

There is a cartoon in The New Yorker of March 30, 2020 showing four mobsters, one with a gun, sitting around a table. The caption reads: “For health and safety reasons, we’ll be transitioning to cyber crime.” You can see the cartoon at https://www.newyorker.com/cartoon/a24009 [1]

No kidding! The huge increase in cyberattacks since the pandemic began is absolutely staggering, but not unexpected. I said as much in my BlogInfSec column of March 23, 2020, with the title: “Cybercriminals’ Motivations during Catastrophic Times.”

But now, some five months later, we are beginning to see some statistics in the press. One such source is the article, “Top Cyber Security Experts Report: 4,000 Cyber Attacks a Day Since COVID-19 Pandemic,” available at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/top-cyber-security-experts-report-4-000-cyber-attacks-a-day-since-covid-19-pandemic-301110157.html [2]

The article attributes the rise to many more “people working from home, shopping online, and generally being more connected than ever.” While this explains the supply of opportunities, as it were, the demand by cybercriminals is likely exacerbated by the hardships of the times and the vulnerabilities and gullibility of a frightened population confronting a dreadful disease, economic collapse, and social upheavals—all at once.

While I remain skeptical about the quality of statistics in this space, I will list a few that appear in the article. Even if they are wildly wrong (possibly grossly understated), they provide some picture as to what is going on:

While there is bound to be a sensationalist element in these reports, they seem to tie in generally with various other news reports of major hacks taking place … and so many of us are experiencing being bombarded with scam phone calls, dubious emails, and “alarming” messages, as well as being dragged into social-media “rabbit holes.”

It is a time for everyone to be on the alert for the many scams intruding into our lives. The usual precautions—not clicking on links within emails, not responding to spam telephone calls and messages, etc.—apply, but we need to be extra vigilant because the hazards have increased by many times in such a short period of time. And the population of online attackers and scammers has grown disproportionately since, as the cartoon points out, opportunities for physical crimes have dropped and cybercrime has become that much more attractive.