Cyber crime is growing to unprecedented dimensions. The number of malicious emails has risen by 600 percent since the WHO officially announced the current pandemic. The number of cyber attacks is rising as well. Cyber criminals organize a DDoS attack every 39 seconds.
UN representative Izumi Nakamitsu stated this in a UN meeting last week.
Healthcare Facilities are Under Attack
Nakamitsu said that, because of the corona crisis, technological innovation and online collaboration have never been better. This results in opportunities, but also comes with some risks. The representative said that there are worrying reports about the rise in attacks on hospitals, laboratories, and other care facilities all over the world. We now rely on others digitally more than ever, which means that we’re also more vulnerable and more likely to be attacked by cyber criminals.
Nakamitsu’s words aren’t coming out of the blue. Two weeks after the virus started spreading, the WHO announced that they had observed that the number of cyber-attacks had quintupled. Hackers obtained thousands of WHO employee email addresses and passwords. They published 450 online as proof. These were then used to send people and companies emails asking them to donate money in the fight against the spread of the virus. Of course, the recipients of these emails didn’t know that the money was transferred into the accounts of the criminals. The WHO took extra security measures to avoid recurrence.
The Red Cross published an open letter at the end of May in which they asked governments to “join forces with civil society and the private sector to ensure that medical facilities are respected and protected, and to hold perpetrators accountable”. They explain that hospitals, laboratories, and corona patients should no longer become victim to hacks, since these hacks put people’s lives at danger.
According to Nakamitsu, cyber-attacks occur almost every 39 seconds because of the growing digital dependency. She said that the threat from misusing information and communications technology “is urgent”. Luckily, governments are taking steps forward in this field.
Juri Ratas, Estland’s Prime Minister, said that “a secure and functioning cyberspace” has never been more important. He condemned the attacks on healthcare facilities, especially now that the focus needs to be on the pandemic. “Those attacks are unacceptable,” Ratas said. “It will be important to hold the offenders responsible for their behavior.”
Russia did not attend the meeting about cybercrime during the pandemic. This is remarkable, since Russia is one of the permanent members of the UN security council. The Russian representative stated that Russia would not attend the meeting because Estonia, the UK, and the US didn’t attend a meeting about Crimea the day before. It is common practice that all council members attend informal meetings, regardless whether a country disapproves of the subject of the meeting. The three beforementioned countries do not agree with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which happened over four years ago.
The fact that Estonia, the UK, and the US accuse Russia of attacking the Georgian government and media online probably doesn’t help the situation. The countries are calling the attacks part of “a continuing pattern of reckless […] cyberoperations against a number of countries”. They say that Russia pretends to be a responsible actor in cyberspace, but according to them the opposite is true.
Russia might not have attended the meeting, but it did release a statement online. It says that people’s lives have been turned upside down because of the virus and it has become apparent that we depend on online information and communication. But at the same time they accuse an “elite minority” of militarizing the online domain and state that they seem willing to introduce “preventive military cyber strikes” including crucial infrastructure.
Estonia became the victim of Russian hackers back in 2007. They were targeted for a period of three weeks, because a bronze memorial for a Russian soldier was removed in Tallinn. Hackers shut down the websites for the government, governmental departments, political parties, newspapers, banks, and businesses. Estonia has improved their online security after these attacks, so now they can respond accordingly if they are attacked again.
The British secret service GCHQ and American intelligence- and security services have confirmed that healthcare facilities and laboratories are currently attacked more frequently. The British say that the hacks can be traced back to Russia and Iran. The Americans are pointing the finger at the Chinese. They have previously accused Russia of meddling in the previous presidential elections.