Posted on May 6, 2020 at 1:31 PM
State Hackers are Targeting COVID-19 Research Labs
The UK’s National Cyber Security Center and US Cybersecurity Agency said some cybercriminals have been seen attacking healthcare bodies, especially those who are deeply involved in the response against COVID-19. The report revealed that international hackers are targeting COVID-19 research centers in the UK and the US.
The news is coming as medical research institutions have engaged in the research for vaccines against the current pandemic disrupting global health and economy.
Race for COVID-19 vaccine picks up
The first country to bring out a vaccine will surely achieve massive geopolitical and bio-pharmaceutical influence. Already, a medical team at Oxford University is collaborating with a biopharmaceutical company to begin trials of a purported vaccine against the virus.
The UK and US security agencies did not mention the countries perpetuating the attack, but Sky News reported that some of the hackers come from Iran, Russia, and China.
U.K. and U.S. security agencies have identified some “password spraying attacks” where the attackers try to use commonly known passwords to attack several accounts of healthcare organizations. According to the agencies, these cybercriminals are infecting the research organizations to gather information about the COVID-19 outbreak.
As a measure of security, the bodies have advised medical researchers and healthcare staff to beef up their password security and utilize a 2-factor authentication on their accounts to minimize the possibility of attacks.
Earlier in the month, Matt Hancock, US health secretary, gave a directive which granted GCHQ the right to access the NHS IT network.
At a press conference yesterday, he said the vaccine should not be made mandatory, pointing out that there would be high levels of vaccination even if people are not forced to take the vaccine.
Attackers use sophisticated tools
Medical institutions or organizations currently fronting for the research of vaccines against the virus are most at risk of this type of attack, according to the agencies report.
The “Advanced Persistent Threat” (APT) groups may attack to steal sensitive data on COVID-19 related research or acquire intelligence on national and international healthcare policies
Attackers usually try common passwords against so many accounts, and they are generally undetected because they avoid frequent or rapid account lockouts.
Security agencies are working together to fight cyber threats
Secretary of State Dominic Raab reiterated yesterday at a news conference that some criminals will always take advantage of the situation to perpetuate their act and infect networks.
“We know that criminals and malicious groups are targeting individuals, businesses and other organizations,” he said.
Some will always want to exploit any crisis for their own hostile and criminal ends. This also includes the state actors who are using a sophisticated tool to breach security systems.
Criminals are sponsored by international governments and are using highly sophisticated tools to hack into medical laboratory systems. Dominic warned that they are not likely going to stop any time soon and organizations should intensify efforts to solidify their security systems against these attackers.
He said the security agencies are working together to alert those potential targets to become much aware of the present security threats. With the right information, they can take the required steps to protect themselves against the APT attackers.
They have already identified targeting pharmaceutical companies and healthcare bodies. Once they’ve been contacted and notified, it will help them improve their security against “criminal gangs” and “hostile states”, Dominic said.
The UK is currently working with international security agencies to end coronavirus and defeat those who are currently taking advantage of the situation to launch cyberattacks, he said.
Agencies are placing priority on healthcare organizations
NCSC director of operations, Paul Chichester, stated that the major priority of the NCSC is the protection of the healthcare sector. He said the organization is partnering with the NHS to make sure the sector is safe.
By making the health organizations a priority in this present time, the security agencies will inform them immediately when there is malicious activity. As a result, it will help to keep the healthcare sector in optimum level as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic continues, he said.
But he reiterated that they can’t do it alone, as the full corporation of the health sector to implement the actionable steps will be required.