Staying Cyber Aware of fake domains and COVID-19 scams: fake domain registrations in the thousands

Scammers always exploit people’s fears, and what could be an easier target today than COVID-19.

70% of new domain name registrations are said to be malicious, and since the advent of COVID-19 over 30,000 scam registrations relating to the pandemic have been identified.

The vast majority of these scams come from the U.S, followed by Italy, Germany and Russia.

Luckily within Australia, there are few more hurdles for a scammer to get through before they can register a domain name. Namely, they need to have a registered business entity through ASIC first.

When it comes to international domains, such as .com domain names, they can be registered quickly and without hassle, meaning that they are largely dependant on third-party security vendors to detect & take them down.

This can take between a few hours or a few days, which is more than enough time for a scammer to put a malicious domain name to good use.

Furthermore, keep in mind that while malicious domains are primarily used to launch fake websites, they can be used for other purposes, such as phishing emails.

For example, a scammer could use a domain such as “covidcure2020.com.au” to launch a fake vaccine website, or they could use it to send you a scam email addressed from “info@covidcure.com.au”.

Cyber Aware recommends that you treat any COVID-19 related domain name, email, or website very cautiously during this time. Furthermore, when browsing the web in general, you take these steps to stay safe:

  • Always check for HTTPS in the URL
    • While https:// isn’t the guaranteed badge of safety that it’s often portrayed to be, it’s still necessary and much safer than its counterpart (http). Wherein visiting a website that starts with https:// guarantees that you are at least visiting a site with a verified security certificate, http sites are far more open, and allow your data to essentially be eavesdropped on in transit.
    • To check for HTTPS://, look for the padlock and https:// in your browser address bar.
  • Make sure the URL matches the website you expect to be visiting. Often times, fake domain registrations will try to match existing websites and just change a few characters around.If you click on a link or popup expecting to be taken to Bunnings or BIG W for example, make sure that the link you land on actually matches their official website exactly.
  • When you receive an email, check the address! Because modern email systems allow for senders to show a display name instead of an email address, it’s a lot easier for scammers to pose as others. Whenever an email contains a link for you to click, or is asking for payment/data, be sure to expand the display name and check the actual email address of the sender!

Finally, here are some of the most current COVID-19 scam types currently floating around;

  • Superannuation scams: scams that offer fake early-access to your superannuation and request private data or bank details to proceed.
  • Phishing/SMS scams: these have been absolutely rampant since the pandemic broke out. Read further about fake government SMS scams here.
  • Fake vaccines/med treatment: emails and sites may offer access to COVID-19 testing or vaccinations. Never seek these services outside of official vendors.
  • Price gouging on sanitation products: this extends outside of the realm of cyber also, with people hoarding key supplies (such as toilet paper) and upselling it at ludicrous amounts.

For more information on staying cybersafe during COVID-19, visit https://portal.cyberaware.com/remote.

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