Whether it be the presence of the coronavirus in the country or other events impacting the nation, one may not realize the different factors that prompt an increase in cyberattacks.

With people’s increasing presence online, the risk of facing a cyberattack could be higher for different reasons. Along with this, different current events, and the current tax season, could provide opportunities for an increase in cyberattacks.

Regarding the coronavirus, Sam Segran, chief information officer and vice president for IT at Texas Tech, said cybercriminals take advantage of global events, such as the spread of the coronavirus.

“Anytime when you have any major global event, people have a tendency to go looking for that information at that time, and then cybercriminals will piggyback on information like that to try to send malware or send people to infected websites, infected links,” he said. “That’s the danger that exists.”

The general public has a hard time assessing and confirming information regarding a global event, Segran said. This issue is worse on social media, as it can be hard for people to figure out where information is coming from and if a source is credible.

With the spread of the coronavirus, people looking for information about the virus or who are wanting to donate to certain causes are at risk of cyberattacks, as cybercriminals send out links that contain malware, Segran said.

Even though some people have programs, such as McAfee SiteAdvisor, to determine the risk of certain websites, people can still be at risk, Segran said. People on social media will not be able to easily determine if a link contains malware.

“A lot of times, when you go to a website, you can tell, OK, this particular sourced information is coming from ABC News or CNN News or BBC News. You have a certain level of assurance,” he said. “But if people are sending information on the social network with links that seem to go somewhere you don’t know where it’s going to, there is the associated danger and risk that comes from that.”

Whether it be on browsers that display a lot of links or on one’s social media account, one needs to be aware of the different risks, Segran said.

“The issue really is not about eliminating all risk,” he said. “It’s really about lowering the risk so that they can get some good information without necessarily getting infected.”

Despite the impact of the coronavirus, other events could factor into the risk of cyberattacks.

Even though he has not seen specific cyberattack examples that have resulted from news about the coronavirus, Segran said one needs to consider that major events, such as national disasters or relief efforts after hurricanes hit, prompt an increase in cybercriminal activity.

“With events like that, generally, it is an infection where they can download a payload onto your system, infect your system or whatever,” he said regarding what certain risky links could do.

In addition to the spread of the coronavirus, the current tax season may present opportunities for cybercriminals to attempt to access one’s personal information.

“IRS is a little bit different,” he said regarding cyber attacks that occur because of tax season. “The IRS one is really about tricking you, conning you.”

Frauds regarding social security are common, Segran said. Whether it be through an email that consists of personal information the cybercriminal has gathered or over the phone, Segran said people will trick others to give up information for the purpose of accessing a person’s money.

“In the last few years, we have seen where cybercriminals call you by phone, and then they threaten you,” he said. “In the old days, they used to try to just trick you.”

This type of scare tactic has worked, Segran said.

In 2018, people reported losing close to $1.48 billion, which is a 38 percent increase from 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Jeff Barrington, assistant vice president for IT and information security officer at Tech, said typically cybercriminals will call people claiming to be the IRS and will say the person owes them money.

“They are trying to get a lot of your personal information too, on the premise of validating who you are that they are really talking to,” he said. “They’ll also ask you to send money to a different bank account or some other place, or else somebody’s going to show up at your door and take you to jail for not paying your taxes and things like that.”

One should go to the IRS website for questions, Barrington said. The IRS will not call people about personal information.

Thinking one does not have personal information of value to be taken advantage of is a misconception most college students believe in, Barrington said. People need to take steps to protect their personal information.

“At the end of that, what they want you to do is either they want you to give up a bunch of personal information or they want you, many times, to send money somewhere on the premise of ‘Hey, if you send this, I’ll pay you back,’” he said regarding cybercriminals who ask for personal information or promise a monetary reward for a service.

Regardless of the risks, there are different actions to take if one falls victim to a cyber scam.

Scott Hall, managing director for Tech IT Help Central, said there are different warning signs to look out for in these situations.

Most cybercriminals will always ask for a person for money or personal information, Hall said.

“So, that sense of urgency, immediate need for action, that’s usually an element,” he said regarding some red flags. “Asking for personal information from someone that you don’t know or recognize, it’s from a phone number I don’t recognize, or it’s an email address I don’t recognize.”

Despite the different warning signs, one may need to know how to deal with a situation when they click on a bad link.

Simply clicking on a link can download malware to someone’s computer, Hall said.

If a faculty member, staff member or student clicks on a link or gives up personal information, Hall said they can contact IT Help Central at 806-742-4357 for assistance. It is also a good idea to scan one’s personal technology and systems with anti-virus software regardless if one clicked on a sketchy link.

“The reasons change overtime,” he said regarding cybercriminals’ moves. “The tactics don’t.”

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