Cyber Scammers Exploit Japan Earthquake and Tsunami VictimsTue 15 Mar, 2011 // Chris Allan
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami which has devastated much of Japan's north-eastern coast, it has been revealed that cyber criminals have been quick to capitalise on the state of chaos and despair which has gripped the nation.
The emerging scams have varied from traditional spam e-mails requesting donations and the opportunity to make some fast cash – one message offered a 50% share of $12 million held in a deposit box by a tsunami victim – as well as more complex creations of mock donation sites aimed at garnering bank details of unsuspecting donors.
Though such cyber crime activity in the wake of natural disasters is not a new phenomenon – think back to the situation in Haiti only a year or so ago – what has amazed security experts has been the speed with which the illegal activities have been put into operation. A security researcher with Sophos, Chet Wisniewski, commented on this very aspect:
“What's surprising is how quickly they picked up on the news. We knew scams were coming, but they started appearing in record-breaking times, less than three hours after the earthquake.”
The aftermath of such a catastrophe offers the perfect opportunity for cyber scammers to pose as either a victim’s next of kin -the classic 419 message – or a legitimate charitable organisation hoping to secure funds to aid the recovery effort. Both pretences are implemented with the hope of accessing bank details of e-mail recipients.
Fake anti-virus software sellers have also cropped up, as well as numerous “parked domains” - URLs which are registered but contain no content. According to Samir Patil, a security researcher with Symantec, more than 50 domains pertaining to be donation sites and containing words such as 'help', 'Japan', 'tsunami', 'relief', and 'earthquake' were uncovered within hours of the earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Users are being advised to express caution when exposed to any solicitations from donation or relief sites, and contribute through the official channels only, such as the Red Cross or other local, established charity organisations.
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