- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2020

American and British agencies said Tuesday that sophisticated hackers are actively targeting medical researchers, pharmaceutical companies and other organizations involved in responding to the coronavirus pandemic with the likely goal of stealing information about the outbreak.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency and its British counterpart warned that health care entities in each country and elsewhere are being subjected to brute force attacks mounted by advanced persistent threat, or “APT,” groups — a term used to describe organized hacking outfits frequently believed to be government-backed.

In a joint advisory, the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and U.K. National Cyber Security Centre said they are investigating several recent large-scale campaigns launched against organizations involved in responding to COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus.

APT groups conducting the campaigns have used a hacking technique known as “password spraying” to try to compromise accounts belonging to individuals within targeted organizations, CISA and NCSC said in the warning: Hackers will identify potential victims within organizations and then try to compromise their accounts by “spraying” them lists of commonly used passwords.

The advisory does not name any of the APT groups behind the campaigns or the countries that could be funding them, nor does it identify any organizations targeted in the attacks.

And while the advisory noted that APT groups often set their sights on targets to steal data that “aligns with national priorities,” that hardly narrows down the list of likely culprits. Nearly every country on the planet has reported cases of COVID-19, effectively making defeating the outbreak a main objective most everywhere in the world.

“APT groups frequently target such organizations in order to steal sensitive research data and intellectual property (IP) for commercial and state benefit,” the agencies said in the joint alert. “Organizations involved in COVID-19 related research are attractive targets for APT actors looking to obtain information for their domestic research efforts into COVID-19 related medicine.”

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