As concern over the deadly coronavirus grows, fake news and scams capitalising on people’s fears are also spreading.
Nearly 32,000 people have been infected and more than 630 have died in China, with the majority of the cases in Hubei province. Outside of China, more than 216 people in 24 countries have been infected.
Here are ways to stem cyber infection and mass panic:
Beware of e-mail scams
An e-mail with the logo of the World Health Organisation has been making the rounds, inviting Internet users to visit a dubious website for information on safety measures. A pop-up screen then asks for the user’s e-mail address and password.
Do not click on the link as the website could contain malware. Also, do not enter e-mail credentials as this will allow hackers to harvest sensitive information.
Giving hackers access to one’s account may also compromise other online accounts as many people still use the same password for all their online accounts – although experts advise against it.
Said Mr Paul Ducklin, principal research scientist at cyber security firm Sophos: “Never enter data that a website shouldn’t be asking for. There is no reason for a health awareness webpage to ask for your e-mail address, let alone your password… If you had revealed your password to imposters, change it as soon as you can.”
Another e-mail has also been going around, purportedly from disability welfare service providers and public health centres providing notifications on infected coronavirus patients in the neighbourhood.
Cyber security experts at IBM X-Force and Kaspersky warned that this is a ploy to install malware Emotet, designed to steal financial information and load more malware. Infected systems will then be controlled by hackers to launch more cyber attacks.
The Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team has warned Internet users not to open malicious e-mail attachments or click on dubious links in messages.
Users can also check its website for malware alerts.
Check with authentic sources
A screengrab of a fake CNA tweet went around on social media and messaging platforms yesterday saying that all schools, including polytechnics and universities, would close from Monday due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The story was nowhere to be seen on CNA’s website – enough evidence to suggest that what was circulated was fake. Within the same day, CNA debunked the fake tweet on its website.
When in doubt, do not circulate screengrabs or unverified news. Take time to evaluate the information before sharing or buying into it.
The first response is always to go to the actual website of reputable news outlets to verify the authenticity of the news in question.
Sign up for official alerts
For the latest official information on the coronavirus situation, sign up for the Gov.sg WhatsApp service.
To date, the Gov.sg WhatsApp service has about 380,000 subscribers, according to the Ministry of Communications and Information.
Yesterday, for instance, it sent out an alert to debunk rumours circulating on a death in Singapore due to the coronavirus. An alert was also sent out yesterday on Singapore raising its outbreak alert to “orange” as more cases with unknown links had surfaced.
The Ministry of Health’s website also provides the latest information, including health advisories.
Facebook has a resource page on how to spot fake news or posts circulating.
It also has a channel for consumers to report fake posts, with more details available here.
Users are advised to look closely at the links of dubious posts. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to their links. False stories also often have catchy headlines in all caps and exclamation points.
Also, users should check if the same news is carried by other reputable news outlets. If the story is reported by multiple reputable sources, it is more likely to be true.
One good fact-checking resource is Snopes.com, which has provided routine updates on online claims.
For instance, website City News or ab-tc.com on Wednesday published an article claiming that Chinese officials were seeking to start the mass killing of 20,000 people infected with the coronavirus to contain the disease.
This was debunked by Snopes.