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US Accuses China of Targeting Covid-19 Research Organizations

Last edited: May 15, 2020
Reading time: 3 minutes, 42 seconds

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) are warning organizations that they might be targeted or compromised by China. Research facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations researching the development of a vaccine for the corona virus are being targeted by Chinese hackers. The FBI and CISA have told the organizations to take extra measures to secure their computer systems.

Threat

The FBI and CISA claim that the Chinese hackers are targeting these organizations specifically. “China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19,” they write in a statement that was released. All research facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations researching Covid-19 need to be alert. The statement is meant to create awareness.

The FBI requests that if anyone notices anything suspicious on their networks, they should contact their local FBI office. CISA asks anyone involved in coronavirus research to work with the FBI.

The services will publish more details about the threat in the coming days. What is shared already is that the hackers use password spraying. With this method a cybercriminal uses passwords that are often used and hope that they can gain access to accounts in that way. Hackers avoid being detected by attacking many acoounts at once. This way it’s less likely that anyone notices or that an account is blocked. If the first password doesn’t work they will try another, until they are successful.

Creating a safe password might sound simple, but many people still go for password that are easy to remember, like 12345. But, there are some things that you need to be aware of when you create a password.

Cyber Attacks

This isn’t the first time that organizations like these are targeted during the pandemic. In March, we reported that hospitals were being hit by cyberattacks. Patient records are vital for doctors, and hackers are aware of this. All these records are stored digitally. Hackers will try to infect the computer system with malware or ransomware to force hospitals to pay up so that they can continue their work. Hackers assume that hospitals will agree to pay for their files, since healthcare workers are under a lot of stress at the moment and need to go back to work.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported several weeks ago that the number of cyberattacks targeting the organization has quintupled since the start of the pandemic. Cybercriminals managed to obtain login details and passwords of WHO employees. 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 UK healthcare organizations have also been targeted by hackers. In this case, hackers were hoping to find valuable information about a vaccine. According to British intelligence and security organization GCHQ, these attacks can be traced back to Iran and Russia.

Espionage

The US and China continue to accuse each other of espionage. In September 2019, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He was alleged to have sold confidential information to China worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Last December, the American government deported two employees at the Chinese embassy after they had broken into a military base. It is rumored that one of them was a member of the Chinese intelligence service, but pretended to be a diplomat.

Last year, President Trump angered China because he accused Huawei of espionage. The president claimed that the company used their equipment to steal secure information for the Chinese government. If this was the case than it would put national security at risk. That is why Trump blacklisted Huawei and another 70 other companies. This list is known as the Entity List.

American companies have been banned to do business with the companies on this list for the past year. If they do decide to work with them they risk a massive fine. That is why Huawei cannot sell phones that feature any Google owned apps, such as Maps, Chrome, YouTube, and the Play Store. This week, Trump announced that the ban on the companies on the list will be extended for another year. Up to this day, Trump’s claim that national security had been compromised has not been proven to be true.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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