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Growing concerns NZ’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout could open door for cyber scammers

Cyber crime cost New Zealanders $3 million in the first quarter of this year - with more than 1,400 reported incidents, most commonly scams that lure people into giving away private information.

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It comes as new figures reveal how many Kiwis fall victim to cyber crime. Source: 1 NEWS

The findings come as part of CertNZ's quarterly report which also raised concerns the Covid-19 vaccination rollout could open up a new avenue of attack for cyber criminals. 

"Attackers are opportunistic and are constantly evolving their campaigns to try and trick people into sharing their financial and personal information," the report read. "We anticipate the volume of the scams will increase and vary in look and messaging."

In the United Kingdom the vaccine rollout saw a rise in cyber criminals using National Health Service branding, to lure people into giving away their private details via text messages, emails and apps.

Founder of Deriskme.com, Paula Gair, says unfortunately cyber criminals had been taking opportunity of how the Covid-19 pandemic had been forcing more people into the online space. 

"As vaccinations become widely available for everybody, then there will be more and more opportunity for scammers. And of course the other thing is if we do end up in a situation where we have a shortage of vaccines, that also creates another opportunity for scammers, who are trying to encourage people to take the opportunity to jump the queue."

CertNZ director Rob Pope saying overseas experience has prompted officials to be proactive and keep a close eye on any Covid-19 related scams. 

"Of the 19 reports we've received so far, a common approach is through phishing, encouraging people to either click on the website, to pay for a place [in the vaccine queue]".

He says the key point people need to remember is the vaccine is free and that no-one needs to pay to queue. 

The CertNZ report also showed the most common type of incident was phishing and credential harvesting, making up 46 per cent of all reported incidents. Closely followed by scams and fraud at 31 per cent. 

The last year has seen some high profile cyber security attacks hit New Zealand's health and finance sectors. In August 2020 an attack saw the New Zealand Stock Exchange grind to a virtual halt, suspending trading operations. In December the Reserve Bank was hit by a cyber attack, followed closley in January by the Health Research Council. 

And more recently, Waikato DHB's IT systems were hacked by what's been described as the biggest-ever cyber attack on a New Zealand organisation - the hack throwing its hospitals into turmoil as its entire computer system was taken offline. 

Waikato DHB executive Kevin Snee saying the experience has been a learning curve that all DHBs and other sectors across New Zealand should pay attention to. 

"While you can plan for this sort of event, when it happens for real, it is always quite difficult," he says. "Things are curly, we have learnt an awful lot. There are lots of learnings in here, not just for this DHB but for the DHB system as a whole and New Zealand as a country." 

Digital Economy and Communications Minister, David Clark, who also has oversight of CertNZ says it is important for the public to be aware of the risk. 

"Cyber attacks are opportunistic, we know that attackers take advantage of vulnerabilities, of systems that are out of date, and people who may be caught unaware," he says. 

"It's my job as minister to be encouraging people to update their software, get the patches they need, make sure they've got the training they need and of course direct them to www.cert.gov.nz where they can find out more information on how to protect themselves."