The rapid spread of the coronavirus in Milan forced the Borsa Italiana to cancel our launch event in Italy this week. While disappointing for us, we knew this was for the best.
But as the world has now absorbed, Covid-19 is no ordinary virus. And the Italian situation is certainly no ordinary situation. So much so, in fact, that yesterday Italian officials cut short the Venice Carnival in an effort to control it.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the coronavirus now presents "public enemy number one" with infections having exceeded 80,000.
To put that into context, SARS only had 8,098 infections in total.
But, we have not yet all turned into zombies and China appears to be getting the situation into control. A WHO mission in China found that the daily tally of new cases peaked and then plateaued between 23 January and 2 February and has been declining ever since.
However, sceptics are not buying this because China has been changing the way it has been counting cases. Earlier this month, it changed the way it was counting cases, only to change it back again.
Worse, some people infected have been unable (some, even unwilling) to receive medical care.
Moreover, there is a shortage of viral testing kits, which means that many cases are likely going undetected.
This is, without a doubt, a story of global significance. It is a crisis that has the drug industry racing to develop diagnostics, vaccines and possible treatments. It is a nightmare for those who have fallen ill, or lost loved ones.
Yet, in all of this, lies one insidious beneficiary for whom the outbreak is perhaps an opportunity of a lifetime. These are the cybercriminals who are now using this outbreak as a basis for email attacks designed to snag personal information, steal money and infect computers with malware.
Malicious emails linked to the coronavirus first appeared in early February, making this one of the first big phishing campaigns of 2020 (we seem to see one each year).
As awful as it sounds, this global health disaster has created a golden opportunity for cyber-fraudsters because there is no population or demographic that is not paying attention to what is happening. The potential for impulse clicking is higher than normal.
Here are the most sinister stories we have encountered so far from cybersecurity companies that we watch at Rize ETF:
In late January, data security company Mimecast reported a phishing email that claimed to contain information on how to protect yourself from the spread of the disease.
"Go through the attached document on safety measures regarding the spreading of coronavirus," read the message, which purported to come from a virologist. "This little measure can save you."
The email then urged the targets to download malicious PDFs designed to infect their computers with a malware payload.
In early February, IBM X-Force identified a spam campaign targeting users in Japan specifically, likely because of their proximity to China.
The campaign used the coronavirus scare as a lure to again encourage people to open malicious emails.
The messages contained Microsoft Office files loaded with macros that, when enabled, launched an infection routine that delivered the Emotet Trojan aimed at stealing financial data.
In a 10 February research blog authored by Sherrod DeGrippo, a senior director of threat research and detection at Proofpoint, a global cybersecurity firm, malicious actors were flagged to have been sending phishing emails to businesses whose supply-chain operations and revenues could potentially be negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
According to Proofpoint, one such email in the shipping industry read: "Hi, I thought that this brief note in doc format on the coronavirus and its impact on the shipping industry could be of interest for you."
The email included the subject line lure: "Coronavirus - Brief note for the shipping industry." The shipping industry has taken a massive hit because of the quarantines in China.
In his blog, DeGrippo also talks about coronavirus-themed emails that were designed to look like internal emails from company presidents to their employees, which had embedded URLs that led to fake Microsoft Office websites to enter credentials.
Once the credentials were entered, the user was then redirected to the legitimate WHO coronavirus information site, making the phishing transaction seem completely legitimate.
Why should we care?
This serves to remind us of the hard truth that concerns for cyber security and data privacy around the world are increasing as the amount of data accessed, utilised and shared continues to grow across an array of connected devices.
Just consider that at the start of the 21st century, there were less than 250 million global internet users. In 20 years, that user base has exploded to 4.5 billion as of June 2019, or roughly 59% of the global population according to data published by Internet World Stats.
And cybersecurity spending is set to grow. We are in the middle of a cyber boom as new attack vectors emerge, sometimes where we least expect it, and new countermeasures are developed.
We see this reflected in forecasts that suggest that cyber crime will cost $6trn annually by 2021, according to research outlets such as Cybersecurity Ventures.
It comes as little surprise then that decision-makers are including cybersecurity among their top considerations for 2020.
Rahul Bhushan is co-founder of Rize ETF