Cyberattackers are continuing to leverage the COVID-19 pandemic in their exploits, with new research indicating that the number of phishing campaigns centered on the vaccine roll-out has risen significantly of late.

The Real-Time Anti-Phishing protection system developed by cybersecurity firm Webroot has found an increase in the number of malicious URLs using subjects like vaccines, COVID cures, and travel. 

These terms, which are particularly important to people in the current climate, are being utilized in order to encourage unsuspecting victims to click on suspicious links and open illegitimate emails.

Phishing on the rise

According to Webroot’s analysis, the use of the word “vaccine” in suspicious domain names increased by 94.8% between December 8 last year and January 6, 2021, when compared to the previous 30 days. In addition, this period also showed an increase of 336% when compared with March 2020.

In total, Webroot found more than 4,500 new suspicious domains that contained a reference to “COVID-19,” “Corona,” “vaccine,” “cure COVID,” and other related terms. Of these, 934 domains included the word “vaccine,” while a further 611 contained a misspelling of “vaccine.”

“As 2021 brings the first mass vaccination programs to fight COVID-19, we’re already seeing cybercriminals exploiting the publicity and anticipation surrounding these to target businesses and consumers in phishing and domain spoofing attacks,” Nick Emanuel, Senior Director of Product at Webroot, said. “Scams using keywords based on emotive subjects concerning medical safety and the pandemic are always going to be more effective, especially when they’re in the public interest.”

Webroot’s findings should come as no surprise, as it has long been observed that cyberattackers are attempting to use the pandemic to their advantage. Google recorded a record number of phishing attempts in 2020, while earlier this week the FBI issued a warning to businesses over a rise in vishing attacks.

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