KSL INVESTIGATES

Gephardt: Hackers likely to exploit Ukrainian conflict to unleash malware on Americans

Feb 25, 2022, 6:24 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:55 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — We are bombarded with information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine all day long, and that has experts warning that hackers are likely to target you through your curiosity about this unfolding event.

The images on the news coming out of Ukraine are certainly compelling. But reputable news organizations are, of course, not the only place the war images can be found. Links on social media and email attachments also offer up access to pictures and video from Ukraine.

“We’re seeing a huge uptick in scams,” said Alex Hamerstone, advisory solutions director for the cybersecurity firm, TrustedSec.

Hamerstone warned that simply clicking on a link or opening an email attachment can cause a virus or malware to be downloaded onto your computer, opening access to the bad guys. And they are certainly attuned to what is happening in the news, just like the rest of us.

“If there’s a big story in the news, whether it’s a weather event or some kind of national tragedy, people always will exploit that because they know that if that’s the subject of the email or the scam, that people are going to click on it and be interested and be more likely to fall for it,” Hamerstone said.

Sorting fact, disinformation after Russian attack on Ukraine

Falling for it can be costly. FBI Data shared with the KSL Investigators shows over $47.1 million lost by 4,900 Utahns to cybercriminals in 2020. That works out to be an average of more than $9,500 per crime.

Hamerstone said lately, his team is seeing cybercrooks target reputable websites, such as places people go every day for their news. Scammers are buying ads on these sites and then rigging said-ads with malware, just waiting for folks to click on it.

“If you see somebody advertising on a major website — a website that you trust for your news — oftentimes those ads really have nothing to do with that site,” he explained. “They’re sold through a third-party – ad buying agents that just kind of put your ad out there on lots of different sites.”

The FBI said one of the most common types of malware is ransomware, where the bad guy locks you out of your computer and files unless you pay.

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Gephardt: Hackers likely to exploit Ukrainian conflict to unleash malware on Americans