Bulgaria smells ‘hybrid operations’ under COVID-19 cover

The COVID-19 crisis has been used as a cover for hybrid operations in the EU, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry stated on Thursday (24 September). EURACTIV Bulgaria reports.

The flow of disinformation, propaganda and fake news has intensified during the pandemic, according to an official report by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry.

The health crisis was used “as a tool to conduct hybrid operations and campaigns throughout the Union,” says the report, pointing to a marked increase in cybercrime – including online fraud and websites spreading fake news.

“The activity of organised crime was reoriented in the online space, social networks and the ‘Dark Net’,” the report says. “Many of these activities exploit vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic, such as the sale of inflated medicines, medicines against COVID-19 and medical devices,” it adds.

In Bulgaria, the ministry reports a total of 212 cases of cybercrime, including 160 for fake news and 52 for speculation on the price of medicines and drugs, including the sale of prescription drugs. The main sites that disseminate false information and publications have been identified, the report says.

The most common forms of computer crime remain financial crime and illegal content on the Internet. During the period, many illegal money transfers were made as a result of cyber attacks, and the use of unlicensed online trading platforms increased.

The report also notes an increase in the level of cyber attacks against state institutions, individuals and legal entities. With regard to illegal content on the Internet, there has been an increase in the online distribution of content protected by copyright as well as trademarked goods. In the first half of 2020, 81 orders for illegally downloaded copyrighted works were issued and 40 online trade sites were suspended.

Looking at the bigger picture, the report says that “the pandemic has damaged the unity of the EU, but in the long run only supranational solutions can provide an effective and integrated response to the effects of the current crisis”.

In the first half of 2020, 22 cybercrime operations have been carried out in Bulgaria, five of which with the participation of foreign services. Bulgarian authorities responded to eight requests for international legal assistance (from the USA, UAE and Germany), four European investigation orders (from Germany, Italy and Romania) and four European arrest warrants (from Germany) all of which were reportedly fulfilled.

“Five organised crime groups were neutralised,” the ministry says.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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