FBI Warns of Cybercrime Threat to Online Students

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Art by Ashar Jamil via Flickr.

While many educational institutions and businesses continue to maintain online instruction for the fall due to the pandemic, the FBI warns that the online learning structure will make students and families increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, Border Report details. 

This warning comes as the FBI’s Cyber Division experts and Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) division reported a 300 percent increase in cybercrime activity — including a 273 percent increase in “large-scale data breaches” — since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, CNBC News outlines. 

A recent report from VMware, a global leader in cloud infrastructure and digital workspace technology, corroborates the FBI’s findings.

VMware found that during the time between March and April 2020, ransomware in America increased 90 percent, destructive attacks, in which data or networks are destroyed, increased 102 percent.

Additionally, Island hopping, in which criminals take over digital transformation efforts of companies, using their networks to attack customers and partners, increased by 33 percent.

And, with the increasing need for students and parents to use the internet during the pandemic, many believe these spikes will only go up.

“With school returning, the use of teleconference applications are going to be on the rise, there are some threats that were present several months ago when this first happened with COVID-19,” Tomas Armendariz, a computer scientist with the FBI’s El Paso Division, told Border Report.

“And these threats are going to still be around as people return to class,” he said.

‘Zoom Bombing’ Threat

Since many schools and universities will be offering the fall semester online, Armendariz said hackers are becoming more sophisticated, and taking advantage of the student’s use of Zoom and their school emails.

“Zoom Bombing” — which is when hackers try to pawn personal information like emails and passwords through Zoom accounts, has become increasingly popular. These hackers sell passwords on the dark web for others to try and access other personal accounts.

“Whenever any platform becomes popular, it also becomes more targeted,” Sherri Davidoff, CEO of LMG Security told an NBC News affiliate. “Zoom is not an exception to that.”

Cybercriminals are also impersonating schools and universities through emails, claiming a student owes money and sends harmful links.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Arkansas saw such an uptick in these kinds of scams, that local school districts and the BBB president and CEO Janet Robb had to sound the alarm for the public.

“We are getting very comfortable with [working online], but when you get comfortable sometimes you let your guard down,” Robb told the NBC News affiliate.

Robb continued, “You don’t want to let your guard down, click on a link that may infect your computer with a virus and that’s the computer that your child needs to do their school work, and so now you compounded the problem.”

Red Flags

As hackers are becoming smarter, Armendariz says we need to stay up to date and informed about the changing technical landscape to stay safe.

Armendariz says one of the things parents and students need to keep an eye on are seemingly innocent apps, like a calculator or flashlight, that actually have secret “malicious software” designed to mine data and personal information.

“An app like that shouldn’t be consuming data and is probably an indicator of things going on behind the scenes, even when you’re not using them,” Armendariz told Border Report.

“It could be harvesting your information; it could be sending it to the attacker, so that’s why the data will spike for those particular apps.”

The FBI also suggests that parents should read app reviews from the App Store or Google Play store, as it’s possible these “malicious applications” slipped through the app store’s security system.

To help further protect your information, the FBI suggests avoiding posting links to teleconferences on public chat rooms and social media posts, as they say this “can leave meeting attendees vulnerable to cybercrime and ‘Zoom bombing’.”

Despite the precautions that can be taken to protect your information online, Armendariz stressed that “no one is immune to cyberattacks,” and encourages anyone to report cybercrime to the FBI’s Internet Complaint Center.

Additional Reading: ‘I Felt Raped’: Victims of Cybercrime Describe Trauma in UK Survey

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

One thought on “FBI Warns of Cybercrime Threat to Online Students

  1. As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called “Zoom-bombing”) are emerging nationwide. The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.

    Within the FBI Boston Division’s area of responsibility (AOR), which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, two schools in Massachusetts reported the following incidents:

    -In late March 2020, a Massachusetts-based high school reported that while a teacher was conducting an online class using the teleconferencing software Zoom, an unidentified individual(s) dialed into the classroom. This individual yelled profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of an instruction.

    -A second Massachusetts-based school reported a Zoom meeting being accessed by an unidentified individual. In this incident, the individual was visible on the video camera and displayed swastika tattoos.

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