Civic News
Cybersecurity / Policies / Social justice

You’re outraged — and that makes you vulnerable online

When bad news happens, phishers use it to their advantage, and cyberattacks follow. Here's how to protect yourself.

Anger, fear and sadness can make you a cybercriminal's target. (Photo by Mikhail Nilovvia Pexels)
You’re mad. You want to do something. Just be sure your emotions don’t lead you to blindly click links, make donations or trust companies you’ve never heard of.

When the news is bad, scary and outrage inducing, like yesterday’s Supreme Court leak that calls into question the reproductive rights of Americans, online criminals have you right where they want you.

We saw it when COVID hit: As people were coping with the high anxiety of the early COVID-19 pandemic, scammers sent phishing emails claiming to be urgent advisories from the government, messages that the vaccine was available when it wasn’t, or fake exposure alerts.

“There’s been a huge increase in COVID-19 phishing emails in the past couple of weeks,” said Connor Swalm, former cofounder of Anchor Security, a Newark, Delaware-based cybersecurity firm that specializes in phishing, in late March 2020. “They can be much more effective than other phishing scams, and the people most susceptible are at risk of losing their businesses if they get scammed.”

Other high-emotion topics such as Black Lives Matter and the Russian attacks on Ukraine, where people feel compelled to help, sometimes after being duped by official-looking web pages or even deepfake technology.

Employee email remains the most common way for ransomware attackers to get into a company’s system, according to Proofpoint, which found that phishing attacks were 46% more successful in 2021 that in 2020, and that a whopping 78% of organizations experienced email-based ransomware attacks in 2021.

The biggest risk for a ransomware attack is human vulnerability, and cybercriminals know and exploit that. It’s not that people are less aware of phishing. It’s that when emotions are heightened, an email pleading for help or even a strongly-worded call to action can cause perfectly aware people to let their guards down.

Now that Roe vs. Wade is on the edge of being overturned, expect to encounter emails (phishing), texts (smishing), social media and phone calls (vishing) appealing to internet users’ outrage.

How can you minimize the risk, especially when it comes to your business network? A few easy things you can do, most of them right now:

  • Talk to your team about the high possibility that they may receive phishing emails, that they may look official or even from the government, and that any unsolicited email, text or call that asks you to click a link or send money should be treated as suspicious.
  • Give your team a refresher on their phishing training, or schedule a first training workshop if you haven’t done it before.
  • Stress that no donations, even through their own payment accounts, should ever be done while they’re logged in to work (and even when they’re not, they should only give to organizations that are known and vetted).
  • Allow employees time to process their emotions, so they may be less likely to express them impulsively

Another scam related to Roe vs. Wade are “rogue” online pharmacies that claim to offer easy at-home reproductive services, including the over-the-counter morning-after pill, aka Plan B, that can be difficult to obtain in some areas. In many cases, these fake pharmacies, often claiming to be located in Canada or a country in South America, take the money and send nothing in return. If you are turning to an online pharmacy for Plan B, verify them using the tool

And if you must do something online to express your feelings about the Supreme Court’s actions, is official and will link you up with your (or any) US congresspeople. You’ll also want to connect with your state senators and representatives; if Roe vs Wade does get officially overturned and the laws go back to the states, they will have the power to made the decisions in your state’s abortion laws. Most state websites are [name of state].gov.

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