The dark web: Where coronavirus fraud, profiteering, malware, and scams are discussed

COVID-19 is fueling new dark web conversations about cybercriminal activity, says cyber intelligence company Sixgill.

What is the Dark Web, and why is it so bad if your information is there?

The coronavirus has obviously been one of the major topics of conversation among most people as of late. Those of us who are curious, nervous, and scared about the virus have been turning to family, friends, and others to share our thoughts and fears. But just as law-abiding people have been discussing COVID-19, so too have criminals on the dark web. Though many of them are just as frightened by the virus as the rest of us, their conversations also focus on ways to exploit it, according to cyber intelligence company Sixgill.

In a report published last week, Sixgill discussed the specific topics that the coronavirus has been generating on the dark web. People in this virtual underground are talking about general subjects as well as fraud, profiteering and scamming, and social engineering and malware.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

General discussions on the dark web

Of course, there are general discussions on the dark web about COVID-19 centered on areas such as news and developments, the virus's social and economic impact, and criticism over government response. Many on the dark web are afraid of getting infected or losing money due to the sinking economy. But there are also a lot of posts that promote conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios.

People drawn to the dark web are often going to be the types who are suspicious about government and other institutions, so conspiracy peddling doesn't seem like a stretch. In some conversations, people reveal how they're preparing for the virus by hoarding food and other supplies. In other discussions, dark web aficionados talk about stockpiling weapons and ammunition with references to a store supposedly selling "guns, military items, and explosives."

Fraud discussions on the dark web

Governments are sending aid to people in distress due to the virus, and sometimes without the typical restrictions in place to prevent fraud. Naturally, that's an area criminals would want to exploit for their own financial gain. Some of the dark web discussions found by Sixgill focus on how to cut off a slice of the fraud money. In other conversations, people point out that governments are busy combatting the virus, so this would be an ideal time for other illegal activities, such as smuggling illicit goods.

Profiteering and scamming talk on the dark web

Hoarding and selling items in high demand is another potentially profitable area for criminals. In certain discussions on the dark web, people talk about taking money for selling certain items without actually providing them to the buyers. Some criminals are trying to hoard and sell medical products related to the virus, including ventilators, masks, testing kits, and even a vaccine.

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Image: Sixgill

Several dark web sellers are promoting themselves through virus-themed marketing. Sixgill discovered storefront criminals with such names as Corona and Covid, along with ransomware dubbed COVID19CRYPT and Covid19. One person claimed to be auctioning cloud access to a top politically themed US website starting at $20,000, boasting that this access is "great for raising panic about the coronavirus."

Social engineering and malware talk on the dark web

Finally, social engineering and malware related to the coronavirus is a hot topic of conversation on the dark web. Some people are advertising virus-themed phishing page designs and templates, while others assert that this is an excellent time for phishing attacks. On the flip side, many on the dark web are warning fellow criminals to be wary of such campaigns.

Further, the kind of malware tools accessible on the dark web, such as remote access Trojans, ransomware, and RDP crackers, are increasingly tempting to use against businesses with more remote workers and those in healthcare and government.

"While the overwhelming majority of discourse is informational, there is a troubling rise in malicious intent, as threat actors seek to monetize this crisis through a variety of illegal methods," Sixgill said in the report. "We must caution that the dark web is a testing ground of malign ideas; if an actor shares a 'success story' of how he made money, many copycat attacks should be expected in the immediate future."

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Image: Togapix, Getty Images/iStockPhoto

By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.