State-backed hackers targeting coronavirus responders, US and UK warn

Government-backed hackers are attacking health care and research institutions in an effort to steal valuable information about efforts to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, Britain and the United States said on Tuesday in a joint warning. (File/Shutterstock))
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Updated 06 May 2020

State-backed hackers targeting coronavirus responders, US and UK warn

  • One US official and one UK official said the warning was in response to intrusion attempts by suspected Chinese and Iranian hackers
  • State hacking groups “frequently target organizations in order to collect bulk personal information, intellectual property and intelligence that aligns with national priorities,” the NCSC and CISA said

LONDON/WASHINGTON: Government-backed hackers are attacking health care and research institutions in an effort to steal valuable information about efforts to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, Britain and the United States said on Tuesday in a joint warning.
In a statement, Britain’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said the hackers had targeted pharmaceutical companies, research organizations and local governments.
The NCSC and CISA did not say which countries were responsible for the attacks. But one US official and one UK official said the warning was in response to intrusion attempts by suspected Chinese and Iranian hackers, as well as some Russian-linked activity.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss non-public details of the alert. Tehran, Beijing and Moscow have all repeatedly denied conducting offensive cyber operations and say they are the victims of such attacks themselves.
State hacking groups “frequently target organizations in order to collect bulk personal information, intellectual property and intelligence that aligns with national priorities,” the NCSC and CISA said.
“For example, actors may seek to obtain intelligence on national and international health care policy or acquire sensitive data on COVID-19 related research.”
The warning follows efforts by a host of state-backed hackers to compromise governments, businesses and health agencies in search of information about the new disease and attempts to combat it.
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.
The officials 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 organizations that need to better defend themselves.
“These are organization that wouldn’t normally see themselves as nation state targets, and they need to understand that now they are,” said one of the officials.
The agencies said hackers had been seen trying to identify and exploit security weaknesses caused by staff working from home as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
In other incidents, the attackers repeatedly tried to compromise accounts with a series of common and frequently-used passwords — a technique known as “password spraying.”
“It’s no surprise that bad actors are doing bad things right now, in particular targeting organizations supporting COVID-19 response efforts,” a CISA spokesman said.
“We’re seeing them use a variety of tried and true techniques to gain access to accounts and compromise credentials.”


‘Paranormal’: Netflix’s first Egyptian series whips up social media storm

Updated 12 August 2020

‘Paranormal’: Netflix’s first Egyptian series whips up social media storm

  • The books featured Dr. Rifaat Ismail, a professor of hematology whose life is taken over by supernatural forces

CAIRO: Netflix’s first Egyptian series was trending on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in Egypt as it marked the “anniversary” of the death of its main character, ahead of its release.

“Paranormal,” a horror series which will be available in the fall of 2020, is based on a hugely popular series of books by the writer Ahmed Khaled Towfik. The books featured Dr. Rifaat Ismail, a professor of hematology whose life is taken over by supernatural forces. Towfik turned out new books in the series twice a year from 1993 until 2004, but he killed off his doctor on Aug. 8. The announcement of his death provoked a strong response, with some fans holding private funerals and some strongly attacked the writer.

The Netflix series has also provoked a strong response over the choice of Ahmed Amin in the lead role. Social media users noted the great similarity between Amin and Ismail but were still concerned over Amin’s ability to do the widely loved character justice, since he is mainly known as a comedy actor.

“August 8 ... the anniversary of the passing of Dr. Rifaat Ismail ... the legend of the godfather, that was never just mere fiction ... it made Ismail a true friend of a whole generation ... 81 stories … which we spent our entire pocket money on ... we hid in them at bedtime, so we could hear from Dr. Rifaat,” Amin wrote on Instagram alongside a picture of himself in character.

“Paranormal,” directed by Salama and Majid Al-Ansari, was filmed in Egypt, and written by Dina Maher, Omar Khaled and the Egyptian poet Mahmoud Ezzat, whose latest film “Souad” was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival.

The novels sold more than 15 million copies and have millions of fans across the Arab world. Towfik, who died unexpectedly at the age of 56 a year ago, once said: “I want it written on my grave: ‘He made young adults read’.”

And so it happened: many fans attached notes bearing this phrase to his grave after his death.