This week, we look at cybercrime and its impact during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The global war against COVID-19 is central to all countries, as a third of the world remains on lockdown in attempts to conquer it. A few industries stand to benefit by regarding this crisis as an opportunity. One of these is the technology space. In this series titled, COVID Tech, SABC News’ Tshepiso Moche reports on coronavirus-related tech developments in South Africa and globally. 

Young scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) say sharing or spreading of misinformation and cybercrime during the COVID-19 pandemic has gone up during this period.

The young scientists say cybercriminals are using the COVID-19 pandemic to spread fake news.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, South Africa has seen an increase in cybercrime activities.

Cybersecurity researcher from CSIR, Thabo Mahlangu, says they have seen an increase in data being stolen from users and an increase of breaches within the video conferencing platforms.

With many people working from home during this period, scientists say this has created security challenges.

Many people who have started working from home since the beginning of the lockdown, are using apps or digital tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype to communicate with their colleagues.

Mahlangu, who was part of the young scientists addressing the media this week, says ransomware is also on the rise.

Ransomware is a type of malware from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the people’s data unless a ransom is paid.

Any organisation that has an online presence is at risk of cyber-attacks.

“There is an increase in attempts to steal data from users, malware and phishing attempts, breaches on video conferencing platforms, and scams and fraudulent activities using digital means,” adds Mahlangu.

In the sound clip below, Mhlangu explains how some cybercriminals operate:

CSIR establishes Security Operations Centre (SOC)

CSIR has since established a Security Operations Centre (SOC) to try and lessen the spread of malware and stop cybercriminals from targetting people.

The CSIR established the SOC, which is a facility that houses an information security team responsible for monitoring and analysing an organisation’s security risk vulnerability on an ongoing basis.

The SOC’s objective is to detect, analyse and respond to cybersecurity incidents, using a combination of technology solutions and a strong set of processes for local municipalities and other entities in South Africa to protect them against phishing attacks and malware.

The sound clip below speaks more about the Security Operations Centre’s work:

Sharing of misinformation

30-year-old Nelisiwe Dlamini has encouraged people to verify stories from social media, especially those that have to do with COVID-19 before pressing the share button.

It is believed that the spread of incorrect information has worsened since the beginning of COVID-19 over the past few months.

Fake news can be defined as any information that is false, fake and misleading with an intention to cause harm.

In April, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies announced that it would be collaborating with Real411 to help curb the spread of disinformation related to COVID-19.

People can combat digital disinformation shared on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter by reporting the sharing of such information on the Real411 website.

Complaints from the Real411 site ranges from misinformation suggesting that COVID-19 doesn’t exist to posts on social media about cures for the deadly virus.

Earlier, the government warned people against any sharing of fake news saying those who are found to be sharing such information could face prosecution.

Dlamini says people should avoid sharing any information that has not been verified, as such information creates panic and confusion among other things.

In the sound clip below Dlamini talks about verifying information:

Fake News leads to arrest and prosecution

The spread of fake news has been rife on social media.

In April, a video of a 55-year-old man urging people to refuse to be tested for COVID-19 went viral on social media.

In the video, the man warned people against test kits which he suggested that they were already contaminated.

“Do not under any circumstances allow them to test you. There’s a possibility that the swabs are contaminated with COVID-19,” he said in the video.

The man was arrested by members of the Parow SAPS.

Cybercriminals used COVID-19 information to create fake websites to trick the victims into downloading attachments and emails that were infected with malicious code.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, CSIR has created a dashboard to assist government and health institutions to track the spread of misinformation, in order to avoid unnecessary public panic.

The dashboard categorises information as misinformation (misleading content), disinformation (fabricated content), and mal-information (hate speech content).