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Covid-19: Cyber criminals will target vaccine programmes

Interpol issues a global alert to law enforcement as the UK becomes one of the first countries to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use

Cyber criminal networks will be tooling up to target Covid-19 vaccination programmes within days, and both citizens and law enforcement agencies should be on high alert, global policing body Interpol has warned.

Interpol’s Orange Notice to its 194 member states comes as the UK becomes the first western country to grant regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine, paving the way for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be administered to high-risk groups such as care home residents later in December.

The notice outlines possible criminal activity coalescing around the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of Covid-19 and flu vaccines, given that the pandemic has already triggered “unprecedented” opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour. As previously reported, much of this activity has centred on the cyber criminal underground.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock. “Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.

“It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the Covid-19 vaccine, which is why Interpol has issued this global warning.”

Interpol said that as more vaccines come closer to approval and distribution – other promising candidates include Moderna’s RNA-based vaccine and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s, which uses a genetically altered chimpanzee adenovirus – ensuring the integrity of the supply chain and stamping out malicious websites selling fake products will be essential.

It also called for coordination between law enforcement and healthcare regulators, which will play a vital role in ensuring the safety of the public and wider communities.

Read more about Covid-19 fraud and cyber crime

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Also, said Interpol, should vaccination programmes enable a return to normality in the near future, it is likely that Covid-19 testing will become of even greater importance, particularly in international travel, resulting in increased levels of fraud around testing kits.

The general public can best protect themselves from vaccine-related scams by adhering to basic cyber security hygiene. In particular, it is important to take special care when going online to search for medical equipment or medicines. Above all, always be vigilant and sceptical, and remember that if something seems to good to be true, it almost certainly is.

Interpol’s own cyber crime data shows that of 3,000 online pharmacies that it suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, about 1,700 of them contained other cyber threats including phishing and spamming malware, which could give cyber criminals easy access to your own data, or that of your employer.

If seeking information about Covid-19, use only reliable sources such as the World Health Organization or the NHS. Never believe anything you see on Facebook or other social media sites because such platforms are vectors for disinformation and conspiracy theories peddled by malicious and dangerous fantasists.

Further guidance on cyber security for private individuals and families is available from the National Cyber Security Centre.

Read more on Hackers and cybercrime prevention

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