In brief

  • Alleged Chinese and Russian hackers are reportedly trying to steal coronavirus-related research data.
  • The number of cyberattacks against US government agencies and medical institutions has surged lately.
  • Malicious actors are also continuing to spread disinformation during the global pandemic.

Various hacker groups are reportedly increasing the intensity of cyberattacks against the US, attempting to steal coronavirus-related research data from the country’s hospitals, research laboratories, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies, according to CNN.

Per the report, US officials have warned the public about nation-states and criminal groups that specifically target US government agencies and medical institutions lately. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for example, is being struck on a daily basis, an official familiar with the situation told CNN.

The US Department of Health and Human Services. Image: Shutterstock.

He stated the primary culprits behind the cyberattacks against health institutions are Russia and China, judging by the scope of the operations. "It is safe to say that there are only two places in the world that could hit [the Department of Health and Human Services] the way it's been hit," he noted.

Normally such health agencies wouldn’t be such prime targets, but in the current pandemic, the data they hold has become more desirable.

"There is nothing more valuable today than biomedical research relating to vaccines for treatments for the coronavirus," said John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, adding that, "It's of great importance not just from a commercial value but whatever countries, company or research lab develops that vaccine first and is able to produce it is going to have a significant geopolitical success story."

In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, malicious actors are reportedly using all available attack vectors and tools, including impersonation of US agencies or authorities via phishing emails; denial-of-service and ransomware attacks; as well as disinformation.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a unique opening to nefarious actors and cyber criminals," a senior Trump administration official told CNN. “While under attack itself, HHS, along with the cyber arm of the Department of Homeland Security, CISA, has worked to step up the defenses of those pandemic-related organizations,” he added.

As Decrypt reported recently, the World Health Organization is also seeing an increase in hacking activity directed at its top officials amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, impersonators of the agency are sending fake emails in the hope of getting Bitcoin donations from unsuspecting people.

Spreading disinformation

Last week, The Wall Street Street Journal also claimed to have acquired a copy of the State Department’s report, which stated that China, Russia and Iran have significantly accelerated various campaigns to spread disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic.

“All three countries are using state-controlled media, social media and government agencies and officials to disseminate information to domestic audiences and global audiences alike that denigrates the U.S. and spreads false accounts,” the State Department reportedly said.

Furthermore, the countries have been coordinating their efforts and amplifying each other’s messages in the hope of creating an illusion of credibility across traditional and social media, the report added.

For example, the claim that Bill and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation created the new coronavirus in tandem with pharmaceutical companies to profit off it in the future is reportedly circulating in Russian and Chinese information channels and has been linked to a Russian state-owned TV network.

In another instance, Russian and Iranian state information sources reportedly claimed that COVID-19 is a US bioweapon—as did Chinese officials last month.

And that’s not even mentioning the 5G conspiracy theory.