UN reports sharp increase in cybercrime

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – A 350 per cent increase in phishing websites was reported in the first quarter of the year, many targetting hospitals and healthcare systems and hindering their work responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations (UN) counterterrorism chief said on Thursday.

Vladimir Voronkov told the UN Security Council that the upsurge in phishing sites was part of “a significant rise in cybercrime in recent months” reported by speakers at last month’s first Virtual Counterterrorism Week at the UN.

He said the UN and global experts don’t yet fully understand “the impact and consequences of the pandemic on global peace and security, and more specifically on organised crime and terrorism”.

“We know that terrorists are exploiting the significant disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to spread fear, hate and division and radicalise and recruit new followers,” Voronkov said. “The increase in Internet usage and cybercrime during the pandemic further compounds the problem.”

The weeklong meeting was attended by representatives from 134 countries, 88 civil society and private sector organisations, 47 international and regional organisations and 40 UN bodies, he said.

Undersecretary-General Voronkov said the discussions showed a shared understanding and concern that “terrorists are generating funds from illicit trafficking in drugs, goods, natural resources and antiquities, as well as kidnapping for ransom, extorting and committing other heinous crimes”.

He said UN member nations “are rightly focused on tackling the health emergency and human crisis caused by COVID-19”, but he urged them not to forget the threat of terrorism.

In many parts of the world, Voronkov said, “terrorists are exploiting local grievances and poor governance to re-group and assert their control”.

“The pandemic has the potential to act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism by exacerbating inequalities, undermining social cohesion and fuelling local conflicts,” Voronkov said.