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Cyber criminals exploiting coronavirus fears

Cyber criminals are exploiting fears surrounding the current outbreak of coronavirus in an attempt to launch theft malware, according to new reports from data and analysis firm GlobalData. 

While concerns of the spread of coronavirus grow, criminals are taking advantage of the situation, the company says.

"Perhaps a more sinister threat than coronavirus itself is a malware that is already being spread in other parts of the world, by heartless criminals using fear surrounding the disease," says GlobalData technical editor Lucy Ingham.

In Japan, where the first case of the virus was confirmed on 15 January, emails have begun circulating that appear to be warnings about the coronavirus outbreak from an official government body.

"The emails themselves have a word document as an attachment, with an urgent-sounding name that encourages the recipient to open it," Ingham explains. 

"However, when they do, they see a message that looks like it is from Office 365 encouraging the user to change their settings so the document is not in protected view."

Ingham says doing this does not provide any new information about coronavirus or anything else, but it does launch an extremely malicious malware known as Emotet, which is designed to steal financial data, banking logins and other valuable personal information.

"Emotet has been around for some while, and it is becoming increasingly common for attackers to use current news events to lure victims into allowing it to install," she says.

Over the last few weeks, the number of lab-confirmed cases of the virus has soared from about 50 in China to 14,000 in 23 countries; there have been over 300 deaths, all but one in China.

The presence of the novel coronavirus has been confirmed in the UK for the first time as the UK's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, confirmed that two people from the same family had tested positive for coronavirus. 

Twelve cases of the virus have been confirmed in Australia, while New Zealand has officially barred all foreign travellers from China from entering New Zealand for up to two weeks. Customs has also closed eGates at New Zealand airports, meaning all incoming passengers will be manually processed. The eGates would be closed to all travellers including New Zealand citizens.

Meanwhile, a military training base north of Auckland is being turned into a quarantine centre for New Zealanders returning from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak.