Wuhan virus: Hackers exploiting fear of bug to target computers, gadgets

Customers wearing protective masks walk inside a shopping mall in Singapore, Jan 30, 2020.
Customers wearing protective masks walk inside a shopping mall in Singapore, Jan 30, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE – Hackers are cashing on people’s fear of the global spread of China’s coronavirus to hijack their computers and gadgets.

Late on Friday (Jan 31), the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team issued an alert to warn unsuspecting Internet users of the scam to trick them to open malicious e-mail attachments or click on dubious links in messages.

A typical message offers information “such as how to protect yourself from the virus, updates on the threat or virus detection procedures”, said SingCert – a unit of Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency that coordinates the nation’s response to cyber threats and attacks.

It is a ploy to install a malware called Emotet, according to cybersecurity experts at IBM X-Force and cyber security specialist Kaspersky.

When contacted, Kaspersky could not reveal the number of devices that had been infected by the latest scam in Singapore.

Emotet was first discovered in 2014 as a banking malware designed to steal financial information. It also allows hackers to spy on victims and modify or copy data.

The attack has so far been most active in Japan, with scam e-mail disguised as official notifications from disability welfare service providers and public health centres. These warn unsuspecting cyber victims that infected coronavirus patients had been reported in a nearby area, inviting them to click on a link for more information.

Kaspersky’s malware analyst Anton Ivanov warned: “(The attack) could spread as people continue to be worried for their health.”

The World Health Organisation on Thursday declared the coronavirus epidemic in China an international emergency, with nearly 10,000 people infected and more than 200 dead. Originating in Wuhan, the coronavirus has since spread to more than 18 countries.

SingCert also warned Internet users not to click on links or open attachments in dubious e-mail and messages, and advised them to refer to official sources such as the Ministry of Health website (https://www.moh.gov.sg/2019-ncov-wuhan) for the latest information on the outbreak.