The resurgence of cybercrime during health crises: COVID-19’s other war

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As well as disrupting the world’s healthcare, economic, political and social systems, the Covid-19 health crisis has also led to increased use of digital tools. The cybercrime ecosystem continues to develop and diversify, increasing the threat of cyberattacks on businesses and institutions.


What is a cyber attack?

A cyber attack is any malicious attack on an IT system, targeting information systems (IS) in order to usurp, modify or destroy a sensitive system.

Cyberattacks fall into several categories: cybercrime, image damage, espionage and sabotage. Through attacks such as the installation of spyware and hacker programs, phishing, intrusions, information theft and ransomware.

France is not an isolated case, and in view of the situation, INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Directorate has issued a global assessment report on COVID-19-related cybercrime to 194 member countries and private partners as part of the Organization’s Global Survey in April and May 2020.



1)Interpol, Cybercrime: impact of COVID19, August 2019Cybercrime is on the rise worldwide during the pandemic situation of COVID-19, with Europe the hardest hit.


In fact, more than 800,000 malicious domain names were created during the health crisis, with a significant increase:

  • The number of malicious sites registered with the keys “COVID” or “corona” in online searches for information about COVID-19.
  • Criminals are using the pandemic for phishing purposes, targeting critical healthcare infrastructures and facilities tasked with combating COVID-19. This was the case in September 2020, with the first death directly linked to a cyberattack (ransomware) at Düsseldorf University Hospital in Germany2)
  • Cloning official government sites to steal sensitive user data, then using it in cyberattacks, also known as pharming.


What are these cyberattacks?

The main cyber attacks linked to COVID-19 involve phishing and scams. Since January 2020, one of INTERPOL’s private partners, Trend micro, has identified 907,000 messages linked to this fraud3) Indeed, criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic situation through increasingly sophisticated social engineering tactics. This is possible when the user is fooled into thinking they are dealing with someone they trust or who has authority over them, enabling the hacker to successfully collect personal data information, by remote psychological manipulation. Such as false advertising for medicines, tax measures and emergency aid.

According to information gathered from INTERPOL member countries and private partners, the main types of phishing related to COVID-19 are as follows:

  • E-mails from national or global health authorities,
  • Government instructions and financial aid initiatives,
  • False claims for payment and reimbursement,
  • Offers of vaccines and medical supplies,
  • Tracking applications for cell phones
  • Travel and action offers
  • Donation requests.

The global pandemic has raised awareness of the need for tighter control of IT systems within companies and public institutions. In particular, all public and private establishments need to be trained and made aware of digital risks, so that they can act as the first line of defence against cyber-attacks. For example, IT charters with icons and a crisis management plan, such as the Business Continuity Plan (BCP), need to be put in place. If your company is the victim of a cyber attack, it is obliged to notify the CNIL and the ANSSI if it is an operator of vital importance (OIV).

Cyber attacks continue to grow, senators call on government4) to launch a communication campaign to promote the platform
to businesses and individuals on social networks, to spread the word about good digital security practices.

1 Interpol, Cybercrime: impact of COVID19, August 2019

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