The COVID-19 Infodemic

The COVID-19 caused Infodemic is spreading much faster than the virus itself. Misleading data, info manipulation and conspiracy theories trick people into an endless and irrational search for new information. Cybercriminals are exploiting confusion and fear to launch cyberattacks against individuals and civilian infrastructure.  

WHAT IS AN INFODEMIC?

‘Infodemic’ — an over-abundance of information –some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.

NEW PHENOMENON?

Infodemics are not a new phenomenon. Infodemics of disinformation prevailed in the chaos of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the Ebola outbreak and the Zika epidemic.

WHY IT IS DANGEROUS?

Infodemics facilitate cyberattacks. Weaponizing communication services such as emails, websites, videos and social media, malicious actors attack vulnerable communities in order to sow fear and instability.

Disinformation Accelerates Cyberattacks
  • Covid-19 Infodemic: Since early 2019, there has been an increase in viral disinformation about COVID-19 hand-in-hand with anti-immigrant, racist messages and conspiracy theories about the origin of the pandemic.

  • Disinformation facilitates cyberattacks: Exploiting confusion and an urgency to search for accurate information, cyber criminals spread messages to plant malware, phish for credentials and ask for bitcoin donations.

  • Geopolitical attacks: Attacks against civilians are not only done by criminal groups but also by nation-state actors. Russia has used Covid19 disinformation as a threat multiplier in Ukraine to compromise Ukrainian healthcare services and spread malware. There has been similar news also from North Korea, China and Mongolia.

  • Accountability gap: There exists evidence, yet thin, that binds Ebola disinformation campaigns with Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Bangladesh. But nobody has ever been held accountable for these actions. Attacking civilians must bear consequences.

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Recommendations to Stop the Spread of Disinformation

Stop! Investigate! Contain! Report!  

We believe that these steps can be followed by any digital citizen, and when operationalised can reduce the spread of cyber operations


STOP! Be a cyber watchdog to stop the threat

Malware can hide inside a message, an image, a link or an attachment — in email, texts, group chats…wherever you receive them. Don’t hover over or click on links that come from unknown or unusual sources. Don’t open attachments from unfamiliar senders or if the subject line is questionable. Don’t open pictures or play videos without verifying files with antivirus software.


INVESTIGATE! Be a cyber analyst to validate the source

Knowing the sender doesn’t mean that the message is safe as it could still carry malware. Do a quick search to cross-reference the claims via multiple sources. When possible, trace them back to the original source. Ask yourself: why did I receive this, did I initiate this conversation? If not, don’t open it. Be extra cautious if the text feels machine-translated, has typos, and/or poor grammar.


CONTAIN! Be a cyber citizen and keep your community safe

The rule of thumb: if you are not sure about the content, don’t share it. Don’t spread anything that doesn’t add up, it could lead to cyberattacks. Don’t re-tweet or forward anything you don’t trust. It may not seem like it, but these actions help to facilitate cyberattacks. Don’t be the one who spreads the virus.


REPORT! Be a cyber guardian and report the attacks

Cyberattacks happen every day, most of them are never reported. Don’t let the bad guys get away with it. Report attacks on official platforms. It prevents others from being targeted.Reports help to build cases against attackers and hold them responsible. Your actions make a difference. Spread the word about good practices.