EU Doc claims Russia spread COVID-19 disinfo to cause panic

Plus, more coronavirus chaos and new technology that teaches computer chips to smell.

An internal document circulated among European Union officials alleges that Russia launched a “significant disinformation campaign” about the coronavirus in order to cause panic and worsen the impact of the outbreak on European countries, reported Reuters, who has seen the document. Created by the European External Action Service, the EU’s foreign policy arm, the document claims Russia is servicing its end goal to subvert European societies by pushing disinformation online in English, Spanish, German, and French regarding the virus in order to confuse and hinder the EU’s response to the pandemic. The campaign includes contradictory information and fake news such as the idea that the virus is a U.S. biological weapon.

This kind of coronavirus-related spearphishing is not exclusively a Russian tactic. Bleeping Computer has reported on other nation-backed hackers seizing the moment to push their agendas, including groups based out of Pakistan, North Korea, and China. Additionally, non-political hackers are launching their own COVID-19 scams in the hopes of making money off of the global panic. “Do not trust any information that you cannot verify,” advised Avast Security Evangelist Luis Corrons. “Fake news is spreading, and we should all help combat that. Always look for the source of the information and only trust official websites like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

DoJ requests swift justice for coronavirus scammers

U.S. Attorney General William Barr distributed a memo to U.S. attorneys urging them to prioritize the prosecution of scammers who are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic. In the memo, obtained by Cyberscoop, Barr stated “The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated.” He called for extra vigilance regarding any wrongdoings related to the crisis, including the sale of phony cures, phishing emails pretending to come from the WHO or CDC, and malware installed by mobile apps that claim to track the virus. 

This week’s quote

“Understanding the human limitations that accompany the new work-from-home, school-at-home dynamics can help us discover new ways of using technology to our advantage while maintaining digital sanity.” - Avast US Communications Director Whitney Glockner Black, on the challenges of adjusting to work and school from home. Read her 9 tips on how to stay sane while stuck at home.

FDIC warns of bank scams 

U.S. bank regulator Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), issued a statement on Wednesday warning the public of bank scams using the agency’s name. Playing on coronavirus panic, the scammers are wrongly informing users that the pandemic threatens the security of their bank savings and inhibits their ability to get cash. Pretending to be a banker or FDIC agent, the scammer requests personal data such as bank account and Social Security numbers. The scams come in the forms of emails, phone calls, letters, texts, faxes, and social media, the statement says, adding that the agency never sends out unsolicited correspondence and would never ask a user for sensitive personal information.

5 indicted for defrauding elderly  

The U.S. Department of Justice in the District of Connecticut has indicted 5 men on 11 counts of defrauding elderly victims out of more than $4 million through lottery scams, romance scams, and other fraudulent means. The DoJ press release states that 4 of the 5 suspects, all between the ages of 25 and 32, have been apprehended with one still at large. In lottery scams, attackers tell victims that they have won a cash prize, but in order to collect it, they must first pay various fees in taxes, shipping, and/or processing. Romance scams use social engineering and false claims to trick victims into growing attached to the scammer, at which point the scammer requests money for fake emergencies or false uses, including to travel to visit the victim. The 5 suspects, if convicted, face a possible 10-20 years per charge against them. 

This week’s stat

3.8 million – that’s how many incidents of fraud were registered with the Crime Survey for England and Wales from March 2018 through March 2019, an increase of 17% from the previous year, according to the Yorkshire Post.

U.S. drops charges against Russian troll farm

Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against Concord Management, the parent company of Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency (IRA), the St. Petersburg-based group indicted for meddling with the 2016 US presidential election in Robert Mueller’s investigative report. While Mueller claimed that IRA launched a disinformation campaign consisting of thousands of social media posts and ads aimed at tipping the election in Donald Trump’s favor, the DoJ has decided it is not in the nation’s best interest to continue the court proceedings. As representatives of Concord Management show no willingness to appear in US court, the case is only serving to share US intelligence-gathering techniques and other classified information with Russia, which poses a threat to national security. More on this story at The Daily Beast

Intel develops chip that can smell

Using neuromorphic computing, Intel has developed a chip that can recognize 10 different smells, ZDNet reported. Neuromorphic computing chips are based on the design of the human brain using the tech equivalences of neurons and synapses. By modeling algorithms on the way olfactory systems work in mammals, researchers programmed the neuromorphic chips with datasets collected by 72 chemical sensors that responded to 10 different odors including methane, ammonia, and acetone. As a result, the chip “learned” to recognize these scents, even with olfactory interference. An Intel researcher suggested one possible future use of this technology could be for faster detection of hazardous materials or dangerous substances in airport security lines. 

This week’s ‘must-read’ on The Avast Blog

Transitioning your workforce to a total working-from-home company? Don’t sweat it – just follow these tips from Avast CISO Jaya Baloo on how to make that transition as smooth as possible. 

Avast is a global leader in cybersecurity, protecting hundreds of millions of users around the world. Protect all your devices with our award-winning free antivirus. Safeguard your privacy and encrypt your online connection with SecureLine VPN. Get advertisers off your back and disguise your online identity for greater privacy with Avast AntiTrack.

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