US and UK cyber officials claim 'coronavirus hackers' are state-sponsored

The warning comes after the World Health Organisation and hospitals alike were targeted by cyber criminals

US and UK cybersecurity officials have issued a joint warning that hackers, some of them potentially state-backed, are using the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic to exploit businesses and the wider public.

In a joint advisory published today, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) said that hacking groups have been using a range of ransomware and malware to take advantage of “individuals and organisations” during the global coronavirus outbreak.

Although the advisory claims that many of these groups are state-backed, the statement did not name any country which could be responsible for the cyber attacks.

The warning comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) and hospitals alike were targeted by cyber criminals, compromising computer systems while healthcare workers deal with a dramatic influx of patients hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Hackers have also used the coronavirus to spread phishing emails, posing as GOV.UK or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CISA assistant director for cybersecurity, Bryan Ware, advised the public to “remain vigilant”, be wary of “suspicious emails”, as well as seek information only from trusted sources.

“As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, bad actors are using these difficult times to exploit and take advantage of the public and business," said Ware. "Our partnerships with the NCSC and industry have played a critical role in our ability to track these threats and respond.”

NCSC director of operations Paul Chichester said that the NCSC is “working round the clock with its partners to respond” to the attacks by “malicious cyber actors... adjusting their tactics to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Our advice to the public and organisations is to remain vigilant and follow our guidance, and to only use trusted sources of information on the virus such as UK Government, Public Health England or NHS websites,” he said.

Last month, WHO partnered with major tech firms to launch a global hackathon, with developers invited to support the COVID-19 fightback and businesses struggling through the pandemic.

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