Cybercrimes on the Rise Amid COVID-19 Pandemic; EMCC Professor Shares Tips to Avoid Scams

Monday, June 22, 2020

While COVID-19 has forced many of us into remote working and learning environments, it’s also opened the door for more hackers to come in and try to steal from us. The good news is Estrella Mountain Community College’s Cybersecurity professors have some great tips to help keep us all safe as we navigate work and school from our home computers and various mobile devices.

“We are now more dependent upon the internet in our daily lives and the bad guys know this,” said Glen Olson, Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) CIS/Cybersecurity Faculty. “They are working hard to take advantage of the situation by upping their game of scamming and computer hacking activities.”

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has seen an increase of 400% in cybersecurity complaints since the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive shutdowns. Phishing schemes, as well as hacking attacks against schools, companies, governments, and individuals are all on the rise, but hackers are also targeting healthcare and research facilities that are trying to find treatments for COVID-19. Most of the attacks are coming from foreign entities.

“While it’s not uncommon for critical sectors to be targets of foreign attackers, the increase in reports suggests that attackers are not just looking to steal research data,” Professor Olson said. “They’re also attempting to place Ransomware in the networks of hospitals and others for extortion purposes, looking to steal personal information for criminal intent, and to cause malicious disruption in general to the Internet.”

Top scams currently targeting individuals include fraudulent e-commerce vendors for masks, sanitizers and test kits; fraudulent investment sites; phishing and vishing through update emails, texts and voicemails; spoofed government and health organization communications; and fake vaccines or “miracle cures.” Professor Olson suggests visiting, which has gathered information on various scams and posted examples to help people identify the fraudulent from the legitimate.

Virtual meeting spaces such as WebEx, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom have also become targets. Zoom has made recent headlines for several incidents including compromised user accounts, fake meeting invites, and hackers entering meetings they hadn't been invited to. In response, Zoom purchased a cybersecurity company to mitigate the issues and is recommending its users monitor who is in their sessions.

So, what can you do to keep yourself safe? Start with good cyber hygiene.

“It’s a term we use in the cybersecurity world,” Professor Olson said. “Cyber hygiene can be defined as the things we do to take care of our computer’s health and our safety while online. It’s really just a set of simple steps that we can follow in our everyday use of our computers and

A few steps that can be taken immediately include:

  • Ensuring your computer and smartphone have up-to-date antivirus and antimalware installed. Most internet and cell phone providers offer this for free or low cost to subscribers.
  • Updating your computer’s software. Most of this is done automatically, but it’s good to check your programs to see if an update is available. A lot of these updates are centered on security, and not feature, enhancement.
  • Not using the same username and password for your various accounts. If the bad guys can steal it from one site, they can attempt to use it on other sites.
  • Making sure your passwords are strong. Websites such as LastPass and Secure Password Generator help create strong, random passwords. You should also secure usernames and passwords with a reputable tool such as KeePass.
  • Being wary of emails from sources you don’t know. If the message is not from someone you trust, delete it.
  • Always being aware of where you are surfing on the internet. Don’t click randomly and don’t click on things such as “Free virus scan,”  “Your computer may have a virus! Click here to fix,” or “you have been randomly selected for …” These are all scams that could harm your computer and your personal information.

“Estrella Mountain Community College wants everyone to be safe during these stressful times,” Professor Olson said. “We are all so focused on physical health that we forget about the health of our computers and personal information.”

Registration for the fall semester is underway. If you would like to become part of the growing field of cybersecurity professionals, Estrella Mountain Community College’s nationally recognized program can help. Visit EMCC’s Cybersecurity Center of Excellence for more information.