The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services became a target of a cyber-attack on Sunday which unsuccessfully tried to overwhelm its servers.
Officials said the attack aimed to undermine the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Later, the intelligence services shared their concerns with the Congress about entities tied to Russia which could use the current situation to further increase chaos within the society. Only recently, the University of Kentucky defeated a similar month-long attack, which caused temporary failures of its entire system. The impact was primarily felt by the university’s healthcare which provides for more than two million patients. The IT network of the University Hospital Brno, one of the largest Czech COVID-19 testing centres, also fell victim to an attack.
Attacks exploiting the pandemic also focussed on Asian countries, where government-backed hacking groups from China, Russia, and North Korea are active. According to South Korean sources, North Korea was spreading malware hidden in a document about South Korea’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was supposed to be sent to its state officials. The most active malware campaigns originate in China, which has only just overcome its own coronavirus crisis. Vietnam claimed to have become one of their targets, when an e-mail with an attached file, claiming to contain information from the Vietnamese prime minister, started to be disseminated. Mongolian government agencies faced similar tactics.
At the same time, the EU issued a report warning about pro-Russian disinformation campaigns about the coronavirus. Their goal should primarily be to damage trust in the national healthcare systems and in the Western response to the pandemic. These improbable and often contradicting narratives spread confusion, panic and fear, and restrict access to correct information about the outbreak. One example is calling the virus a human creation and a weapon of the West or spreading doubts about the capability of national and international authorities to face the pandemic. In Spain, apocalyptic stories have also appeared, along with accusations of capitalists profiting from the virus and emphasis of the appropriate steps of Russia in this crisis. All this should be a part of a wider strategy for preventing an effective response to the pandemic and for subverting the European societies.
A world facing a health crisis and increasingly dependent on digital infrastructure, since most of the population is working from home, is becoming a particularly easy target for cyber-attacks. Cyber-criminality has long transformed from individual intruders to sophisticated organizations and entire nation-states which attack critical infrastructure, slow down development, and use ransomware and espionage to gain geopolitical advantage and undermine democratic institutions. Countermeasures in the form of high-quality cyber-hygiene, prioritisation of investments in security systems and thorough source verification will be crucial in the upcoming time.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Kristína Šefčíková
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