WHO doubles its security team as phishing attacks ramp up

Hackers are targeting top officials after employee emails circulated online

Cyber security professionals working for the World Health Organisation (WHO) have "never been busier", according to its CIO, as top officials are being targeted by constant phishing campaigns. 

The organisation has had to increase its security resources while it deals with the outbreak of COVID-19, the WHO's chief information officer (CIO), Bernardo Mariano, told Bloomberg

This is because cyber attacks on the organisation have significantly increased since mid-March when the coronavirus moved up to pandemic status. WHO used to have just one security alert a month, according to Mariano, but that has shot up to eight in April as national cyber security authorities warned it of repeated "nation-state actor attacks".

These alerts have come from authorities in Isreal, the EU, the UK and Switzerland and also include warnings from Interpol and Microsoft.

The hackers are not attacking the WHO directly, but are instead looking for its highest-ranking officials, according to Mariano, particularly key officials involved with its COVID-19 work.

It's thought that many of its employee's passwords have leaked through other websites and are now being used for phishing and spearfishing campaigns. Malware-loaded messages are being sent to both work and personal accounts that will compromise computers or mobile phones. 

More than 2,000 passwords thought to be linked to WHO email accounts have been circulating on the internet forum 4chan, according to Bloomberg, with the details popping up on social media site too. Most of these email accounts were no-longer in use, according to Mariano, but some 400 were still used by WHO employees. 

Some of the top targets have included the organisation's director-general Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official who led a COVID-19 response team in China. There has also been a "sustained attempt" to hack into computers operated by a four-member team in South Korea and also its HQ in Geneva.  

As a result, the organisation has doubled the size of its security team and is now working with five security companies to bolster its defences.  

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