U.S., UK cyber officials say state-backed hackers taking advantage of outbreak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American and British cybersecurity officials are warning that state-backed hackers and online criminals are taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to further their operations, echoing concerns from digital safety experts.

A joint advisory published on Wednesday by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency and Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said that while the overall volume of malicious activity does not appear to have changed, hackers of all varieties were leveraging anxiety around the disease outbreak to push people into clicking links and downloading attachments.

“Bad actors are using these difficult times to exploit and take advantage of the public and business,” Bryan Ware, CISA’s assistant director for cybersecurity, said in a statement.

The agencies warned that hackers were also exploiting growing demand for work-from-home solutions by passing off their malicious tools as remote collaboration software produced by Zoom and Microsoft. Hackers are also targeting the virtual private networks that are allowing an increasing number of employees to connect to their offices, the agencies said.

The cybersecurity industry has been sounding the alarm for weeks over the threat of coronavirus-themed malicious software and booby-trapped emails.

In a blog post also published Wednesday, Microsoft executive Rob Lefferts said there had been an uptick in the success rate for hackers.

The media was “all COVID-19, all the time,” Lefferts said. “It’s overwhelming and attackers know it. They know many are clicking without looking because stress levels are high and they’re taking advantage of that.”

Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Tom Brown