World

Elite hackers target WHO as coronavirus cyber attacks spike

Hackers tried unsuccessfully to steal money and sensitive information

WASHINGTON/LONDON : Elite hackers tried to break into the World Health Organisation (WHO) website earlier this month, sources told Reuters, part of what a senior agency official said was a more than two-fold increase in cyber attacks.

WHO chief information security officer Flavio Aggio said the identity of the hackers was unclear and the effort was unsuccessful.

But he warned that hacking attempts against the agency and its partners have soared as they battle to contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 15,000 people worldwide.

The attempted break-in was first flagged by cyber security expert Alexander Urbelis, a lawyer with New York-based Blackstone Law Group, which tracks suspicious Internet domain registration activity.

Mr Urbelis said he picked up on the activity around March 13, when a group of hackers he had been following activated a malicious site mimicking the WHO's internal e-mail system.

"I realised quite quickly that this was a live attack on the WHO in the midst of a pandemic," he said.

Mr Urbelis did not know who was responsible, but two other sources briefed on the matter said they suspected an advanced group of hackers known as DarkHotel, which has been conducting cyber-espionage operations since at least 2007.

Messages sent to e-mail addresses maintained by the hackers went unreturned.

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When asked by Reuters about the incident, WHO's Mr Aggio confirmed the site spotted by Mr Urbelis had been used in an attempt to steal passwords from agency staff.

"There has been a big increase in targeting of the WHO and other cyber security incidents," Mr Aggio said in a telephone interview.

"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 WHO published an alert last month warning that hackers are posing as the agency to steal money and sensitive information from the public.

The motives in the case identified by Reuters are not clear.

Mr Costin Raiu, head of global research and analysis at Kaspersky said: "At times like these, any information about cures or tests or vaccines relating to the coronavirus would be priceless, and the priority of any intelligence organisation of an affected country."- REUTERS

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