Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — A federal agency that monitors brewing online threats warns that fraudsters are dangling COVID-19-related content to fool victims into clicking on malicious links and attachments.
In a report today, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security says online tricksters know people are anxious about the future and are less likely to act prudently when they see emails, text messages or advertisements related to the pandemic.
The centre says COVID-19 lures often attempt to imitate the branding and style of legitimate institutions, such as international organizations and public health agencies.
It notes that cyberthreat actors can produce convincing copies of government websites and official correspondence.
One text-message phishing campaign claimed to provide access to a Canada Emergency Response Benefit payment, but only after the target divulged personal financial details.
Another campaign impersonated the Public Health Agency of Canada’s chief public health officer to deliver malware through a fake COVID-19 update that appeared official and legitimate.
The report, the centre's latest look at the overall cyberthreat landscape, says the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the extent to which the Canadian economy is reliant upon digital infrastructure.
"With a sudden increase in the number of Canadians working from home, the protection and security of cyber and telecommunications infrastructure, hardware and software, and the supply chains that support them, is critical to national security and economic prosperity," the report says.
Shifts in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed the online environment, as more Canadians began to work, shop and socialize remotely, it notes.
"We foresee this trend continuing, bringing more facets of Canadian economic, social and political life online and exposing them to cyberthreats, which have also been evolving to take advantage of the growing importance of the internet and related technologies."
While online foreign influence activities tend to increase around elections, these ongoing campaigns have broadened in scope since 2018, expanding to react and adapt to current events, shifting their content strategies around trending news stories and popular political issues, the centre says.
"For instance, we have observed recent campaigns focus their content around COVID-19 and government responses to the pandemic," the report says.
"Disinformation campaigns have also sought to discredit and criticize Canadian politicians to damage their reputations.
"However, we assess that relative to some other countries, Canadians are lower-priority targets for online foreign influence activity, though Canada’s position on high-tension geopolitical issues could increase the threat."