The COVID-19 pandemic is not wearing off or slowing down, and consequently, the number of fake certificates being marketed and sold has now reached a global high.
Earlier this year, iTNews Asia reported cyber criminals profiting from fake vaccine certs and documents. A digital certificate for travellers has been mooted but to date has failed to gain enough global support.
Researchers from Check Point now see an exponential growth in volumes of followers and subscribers to groups and channels offering and advertising COVID-19 certifications and other means to bypass the need to physically get the vaccine, while continuing to the benefits of vaccinated population. These benefits might include boarding planes, accessing cultural and crowded events, getting work etc.
For those who ‘don’t want to take the vaccine but still need proof’
The volume of advertisement groups and groups sizes publishing sellers increased by several hundred percent since the beginning of 2021, said Check Point. Advertisements now reach up to 450,000 people globally and specifically state that the seller “provide registered vaccine certificates…for all those who don’t want to take the vaccine.”
The sellers often state that the certificates are ‘verified’ and invites the buyers to take simple steps in order to place an order- all you need to do is ‘let us know what country are you from and what you want’. Buyers are contacted via Telegram, WhatsApp or email, and payments can be transferred through PayPal and Crypto currency (Bitcoin/ monero, doge coin
The majority of fake certs are coming from Europe, with certificate fakes of the NHS certificate, the EUDCC (EU Digital COVID Certificate), and other countries such as Greece, Netherlands, Italy, France and Switzerland related certifications. In Asia, there are also examples of certificates coming from Pakistan and Indonesia.
The government in Singapore has decided to relax restrictions in two phases this month. Australia released details of its four-phase reopening plans, but lockdowns have been stop-start over the months. Japan has extended its state of emergency in several cities and is set to start issuing paper certificates for vaccinations, but the lack of digital options has raised concerns.
In Singapore, fake vaccine documents are less of an issue as overseas vaccination certificates will not be accepted. As part of the country's four-step reopening process, proof of vaccination can be displayed from health mobile apps accredited by the government. They are now used to allow fully vaccinated people can dine at restaurants.
"Hard copies of overseas vaccination certificates will not be accepted for the vaccination-differentiated safe management measures. This is because it will be difficult for individual establishments to verify the authenticity of these certificates which are issued in different formats and languages," said Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Global vaccine passport remains a major challenge
As of the beginning of August, with 4.43 billion doses of vaccines given around the globe, which makes 15.4% of the world’s population fully vaccinated. Hopes for a global vaccine passport remains a challenge as it is an extremely difficult task to commonly upload vaccine records managed by a multitude of national and local authorities across the world.
Speaking about this problem, Oded Vanunu, Head of Products Vulnerabilities Research at Check Point Software said: “We’ve been studying the dark net and Telegram for coronavirus related services all year. Right now, fake vaccination cards for almost all countries are now available for purchase. All you need to do is list the country you are from and what you want.
“We believe the broader market surge is fuelled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant and the stemming urgency for everyone to become vaccinated. In effect, there are people who don’t want to take the vaccine, but still want the freedom that come with proving vaccination. These people are increasingly turning to the dark net and Telegram in scores.
Since March, Vanunu said prices for fake vaccination cards have dropped by half to about $100 and online groups for these fraudulent coronavirus services boast followings of hundreds of thousands of people. I strongly recommend people to no engage these sellers for anything, as these vendors are after more than just selling you fake vaccination cards.
“Countries should cooperate to share info regarding such data and create a secured repository with encryption keys, to allow people to roam using legit only certifications and to be able to detect forged and fake ones,” he said.