Coronavirus: Dubai report charts huge surge in cyber crime and warns of risks to health sector

A new study by Dubai Future Foundation reveals a 600 per cent rise in scam emails around the world since February

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The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a big rise in "opportunistic" cyber crime attacks across the world, with healthcare facilities at high risk, according to a new Dubai government report.

The study by Dubai Future Foundation found a 600 per cent increase in phishing emails – in which scams are used to take sensitive data – was recorded since February.

The research highlighted how hackers seek to exploit the security vulnerabilities of people working from home, as many do not have access to the level of IT support they would have in their office.

The think tank said the healthcare sector was in the sights of criminals who were launching ransomware attacks.

Anxiety about Covid-19 is leading people to click on dangerous links

The foundation was established in 2016 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to help shape the emirate's development.

“Anxiety about Covid-19 is leading people to click on dangerous links in content that appears to be helpful information,” the report said.

“Opportunistic hackers are looking to exploit the increased reliance on digital systems, such as those being used by hospitals and public service organisations.”

The report said criminals were stepping up their efforts to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic, knowing that IT security staff were working from home and would not be able to detect attacks as quickly as they would in a working environment.

It was not just people working from home who were being targeted, with the medical sector proving to be an attractive prospect for online criminals.

“Hospitals, medical centres and public institutions worldwide are being targeted, primarily through ransomware attacks,” the report said.

“Healthcare professionals require digital infrastructure to tackle Covid-19, and cyber criminals have been exploiting this necessity, believing the organisations will have no choice but to pay to re-enter their systems.”

The report said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had warned of attacks designed to access the personal information of staff members.

Last month, The National reported that Aster Healthcare, one of the UAE's leading providers, said staff were bombarded with suspicious emails.

“We have definitely noticed an increase in the amount of spam and phishing emails, which can lead to cyber attacks,” said chief information officer Veneeth Purushotaman, at the time.

“People are so reliant on digital technology for information it leaves them vulnerable and makes them easy prey for criminals.”