March Madness inspires brackets, team spirit, and cyber crime

Attackers look for ways to exploit the high demand and popularity of the NCAA college basketball playoffs.

March Madness has begun for NCAA basketball teams--and for cybercriminals, who are getting ready for some games of their own. The extreme popularity of March Madness makes the event a prime target for phishing scams, malware exploits and other cyber attacks.

Cybercriminals will use any major event or tragedy that has captured the attention of the general public as bait for attacks. The increased interest from users and the dramatic spike in emails, links, and other communications related to the event make it much easier to blend in. The demand for information combined with the massive audience also mean that the odds of an attack's success are significantly higher.

"Security professionals at businesses of all sizes are preparing for a surge of potential March Madness related cyber-attacks over the next couple of weeks," said Dan Lohrman, Chief Strategist and CSO at Security Mentor. "This is because nearly every aspect of any employee's involvement with March Madness could open up the employee, as well as the organization, to new cyber risks."

Security firm iSheriff posted a list of the top security threats to expect around this major college sports event. Most of the risks involve bogus apps or sites that lure unsuspecting users with promises of March Madness coverage or access.

The biggest March Madness security risks

For instance, "SEO poisoning" causes malware-infected pages to show up when users search online. According to iSheriff, these nastygrams showed up high in the search results from all major search engines.

Another scam conceals malware within video players offering to stream games. A similar bait-and-switch tactic is to post links in forums and social media that purport to offer game-streaming or information, but instead lead users to infected websites.

I hear a little wagering might go on around brackets. Fake betting sites lure users who feel lucky and reach right into their wallets for credit card info.

Mark Parker, Senior Product Manager with iSheriff, stressed that cybercriminals behave much as traditional criminals do. "Predators hang out near the watering holes that draw the prey, because it is easier than hunting the prey outright," Parker said. Online criminals search for target-rich opportunities like March Madness for the same reasons.

Lohrman warned that cybercriminals are already preparing spearphishing emails to target the millions of college basketball fans, or even non-basketball fans who are only interested because they're participating in an office pool. "Organizations and their employees should all beware of spearphishing links related to college basketball games. They should also be careful of people loading unauthorized apps on their devices."

Here's a risk where the perpetrators are the fans--specifically, the ones who try to stream games during work hours, causing slowdowns or worse on corporate networks. If you think the IT folks aren't watching for suspicious traffic bulges, think again.

March Madness is always a fun time of year. Just don't let your passion compromise your common sense--whether it's filling out your bracket or avoiding cybercriminals. Don't open email attachments or click on unknown links, and be careful which apps or websites you visit as you try to surreptitiously watch games at work.

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