August 4, 2020 – The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) warns the public of increased cyber scams and attacks during the spread of COVID-19 in Pakistan. The notification comes as people move to digital platforms during the social distancing protocols in place across the country.
The alert by PTA warns that by pretending to send coronavirus related information, hackers are sending malicious malware through emails, messages, picture ads, files, documents and links that, once downloaded, can infect and seriously harm individuals’ devices. It further advises that people should only browse authentic websites to obtain credible information related to the virus.
The notification comes when various accounts of online scams and digital attacks have been reported during the lockdown as people move to the internet for information, shopping, work, education and communication.
Hackers employ various techniques to target individuals to download malicious software in their devices. Unsuspecting links, photos, files, videos and messages are sent to the target, that once clicked on, would download a malware on their device that can be used to extract user’s data.
It is strongly recommended that individuals do not click on any link that does not come from or lead to a credible source. For COVID-19 related information, it is advised to refer to the government’s dashboard, COVID-19 Health Advisory Platform http://covid.gov.pk/, developed by the National Information Technology Board (NITB). This website updates information around the virus, including stats, safety guidelines, travel advisory, prevention facilities, and helpline support, on a daily basis.
It is also generally recommended to be vigilant when navigating online platforms, and question every piece of information or link sent to you before clicking on it. Individuals should also routinely run antivirus programs on their devices to ensure safety of their data. If, in unfortunate incidents, someone falls victim to a cyber attack, it is advised to not give in to the demands of the attacker and immediately report the crime to the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA).
Hija is a Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She combines her experience in digital rights in Pakistan to lead digital rights and internet governance advocacy of MMfD. She tweets at @hijakamran