Amygdala Hijacking in Cybersecurity Fraud during COVID-19

Updated: May 20, 2020

What runs through your mind when you see “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19”? Panic, fear, concern? These reactions can urge steps that we may not normally consider. Recent strikes have been sending out compulsory meeting requests that require you to log in to accounts.

Others have been getting emails to put themselves on a waiting list for a vaccine or treatment. The intensified emotions we encounter when we see emails, or messages like this may provoke us to provide private information out more readily than we usually would. Security consciousness takes a back seat as emotion takes over. It is known as "amygdala hijacking".

Get the "hack" out of my brain

The amygdala is a tiny part of the brain that is largely answerable for producing emotional responses. An amygdala hijacking is when something creates an overwhelming and instant emotional response.

Many common cybersecurity frauds use amygdala hijacking to their advantage. We see this used frequently in phishing, SMShing, vishing, and impersonation crimes.

The phishing email seemed somewhat apparent. Entering domain credentials in this circumstance doesn’t seem logical. Why did so many people click? The explanation can be traced back to the amygdala. When the employees saw this email with the proposition of something free, they became restless. Their emotional response disregarded their logic centers, and they clicked.

Think about our current world situation. Many feel worried about loved ones, their health, and their economic security. This environment lends itself to fraud that leverages amygdala hijacking. Scammers used tragedy to their advantage. News outlets all around are disseminating warnings of COVID-19 scams that are circulating. Recognizing the tactics is the start of equipping yourself to avoid these scams. We can protect ourselves if we just stop and think.

If you feel yourself reacting emotionally to an email or a phone call, just give your self a moment. By delaying, you will allow your logic functions to start acting again and be able to make a more informed judgment.