The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have ncreased their vigilance in the wake of increased threat to COVID-19-related research in the country. The FBI is investigating the targeting and compromise of U.S. organizations conducting COVID-19-related research by China-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors.
These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research. The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options,” said FBI in a note.
Referring to China’s efforts to target these sectors, it described it a significant threat to the nation’s response to COVID-19 and sought to raise awareness for research institutions and the American public and provide resources and guidance for those who may be targeted. The FBI requested organizations who suspect suspicious activity contact their local FBI field office. CISA is asking for all organizations supporting the COVID-19 response to partner with the agency to help protect these critical response efforts.
“The FBI and CISA urge all organizations conducting research in these areas to maintain dedicated cybersecurity and insider threat practices to prevent surreptitious review or theft of COVID-19-related material,” said FBI in a statement. FBI is responsible for protecting the U.S. against foreign intelligence, espionage, and cyber operations, while CISA protects the nation’s critical infrastructure from physical and cyber threats. CISA is providing support to the federal and state/local/tribal/territorial entities and private sector entities that play a critical role in COVID-19 research and response.
- Assume that press attention affiliating your organization with COVID-19-related research will lead to increased interest and cyber activity.
- Patch all systems for critical vulnerabilities, prioritizing timely patching for known vulnerabilities of internet-connected servers and software processing internet data.
- Actively scan web applications for unauthorized access, modification, or anomalous activities.
- Improve credential requirements and require multi-factor authentication.
- Identify and suspend access of users exhibiting unusual activity.
- Victim Reporting and Additional Information
- The FBI encourages victims to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local field office.
Even the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Agency released a similar alert earlier this month warning of malicious actors targeting COVID-19 response organizations using a tactic of password spraying.