WHO Experiences Massive Surge in Cyber-attacks During COVID19 Pandemic

Chief Information Security Officer for the World Health Organization Flavio Aggio has revealed that there has been a massive increase in the amount of cyber-attack registered against his group since the COVID-19 Pandemic began.

When questioned in relation to the hacking attempts, Flavio Aggio revealed that a fake WHO website was identified as being used in an effort to obtain the passwords from multiple agency employees.

He said: “There has been a big increase in targeting of the WHO and other cybersecurity incidents. There are no hard numbers, but such compromise attempts against us and the use of (WHO) impersonations to target others have more than doubled.”

The attacks were first discovered by an attorney with the New York-based Blackstone Law Group, Alexander Urbelis.  While it has not been confirmed who is responsible for managing the attacks, it is believed that the attempts did not bear any fruit.

Blackstone operates a suspicious internet domain registration activity service and Urbelis is a cybersecurity expert and attorney within this sector. He discovered the breaches initially on March 13 when he noticed that one of the cyber-security collectives he was monitoring had created a web presence that was similar to WHO’s internal email system. Messages sent to email addresses maintained by the hackers went unreturned.

Urbelis, speaking about the discovery of the hacking attempts to news agency Reuters said: “I realised quite quickly that this was a live attack on the World Health Organisation in the midst of a pandemic. It’s (the number of attacks taking place) still around 2,000 a day. I have never seen anything like this.”

Urbelis confirmed that he has recorded thousands of coronavirus-themed web sites being created every day and a large number of them are clearly malicious.

This news comes in the aftermath of an alert being released by WHO last month for everyone to beware of cyber-criminals posing as the agency in an attempt to commit fraud. Similar warnings have been issued by many other agencies as the need for strong cyber-security measures grows with the massive increase in people working from home.

While is it not unusual for non-government agencies such as the United Nations and WHO to be regularly targeted by digital espionage campaigns the sheers number of attacks is a massive increase on what has taken place previously.

There has been some speculation that an advanced group of hackers known as DarkHotel, which has been conducting cyber-espionage operations since at least 2007, is responsible for the focused campaign. AS number of companies that specialize in cybersecurity such as defender and Kaspersky said they have traced many of DarkHotel’s operations to East Asia – the area that was first impacted by the coronavirus.

When this is considered in tandem with the fact that specific targets in this campaign have included government employees and business executives in places such as China, North Korea, Japan, and the United States it seems likely that there may be some involvement from the group. However this cannot be confirmed outright at this time.

Cybercriminals all over the world, not just the DarkHotel group, are sure to try and leverage the current pandemic and the fear to commit fraud and steal money from individuals and groups. If you think that you may be under attack or the victim of a scam then you should contact an expert in this as soon as you can to prevent your money being stolen.