State-backed hackers hit healthcare, say US and UK

Hackers backed by unknown national governments are attacking healthcare and research institutions in an effort to steal valuable information about efforts to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, according to Britain and the United States.

UK foreign minister Dominic Raab is calling the attacks sophisticated and, quote, “particularly dangerous."

"Today the UK's National Cyber Security Centre and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have published a joint warning about these groups and we've offered some advice on the cyber criminals and other actors who are seeking to exploit Covid-19 through malicious cyber activity. Our teams have identified campaigns targeting healthcare bodies, pharmaceutical companies, research organisations and also various different arms of local government."

UK and US officials have said the alert was not triggered by any specific incident or compromise, but rather intended as a warning - both to the attackers and the targeted organisations that need to better defend themselves.

Reuters has reported in recent weeks that Vietnam-linked hackers targeted the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and that multiple groups, some with ties to Iran, tried to break into the World Health Organization.

Raab added that there were many possible reasons for the attacks.

"There are various objectives and motivations that lie behind these attacks; from fraud on the one hand to espionage but they tend to be designed to steel bulk personal data, intellectual property and wider information that supports those aims and they are often linked with other state actors."