A surge in cases of the omicron variant of Sars-CoV-2 saw an uptick in the demand for covid-19 tests among individuals around the world. Cashing in on this, scammers have deployed a wide range of phishing tactics in guise of selling omicron test services and protective medical equipment. A report by Barracuda Networks states that in the past three months since October 2021, phishing scams linked to covid-19’s omicron strain have spiked by 521 percent.
The report notes tactics such as fake omicron test services being marketed by scammers around the world, as demand for the tests saw a drastic rise and caused scarcity of such tests in various countries. The scammers were also spotted peddling counterfeit products such as masks and gloves, as well as impersonating healthcare workers to produce fake covid-19 test reports for unsuspecting users.
Barracuda’s report also notes instances of spear phishing, where scammers were able to break into enterprise email systems, replicate company particulars and send phishing emails to employees of a company, urging them to take covid-19 tests in order to be allowed back to work. The emails hosted a malicious link that subsequently attempted to steal bank or card details of users.
Spear phishing, as described above, is a more advanced form of phishing where scammers succeed in sending phishing emails to users from an apparently trusted source, in a bid to reveal sensitive information.
The Barracuda report is hardly the first to note the rising trend of omicron test scams. In December 2021, a study by Washington University in St Louis, USA, noted covid-19-based phishing scams were among the most popular in USA. The National Health Service (NHS) of United Kingdom also put out advisories at around the same time, telling users about fake covid-19 test emails that were using the omicron keyword to trap users into losing control of their bank accounts and credit cards.
In India, the central government has also issued a warning earlier this month about cyber criminals taking advantage of the surge in omicron cases. Isolated incidents were also reported, where users fell prey to such scams.