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Top DHS official says to expect 'every intelligence service' to target COVID-19 research

Top DHS official says to expect 'every intelligence service' to target COVID-19 research
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Christopher Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, said in an interview released this week that he expects to see "every intelligence service” attempt to target and steal COVID-19 research and data.

We do expect every intelligence service to be in the mix here,” Krebs, who serves as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said on an episode of CBS’s “Intelligence Matters” podcast published Wednesday.

"The Chinese have obviously been one of the more brazen in terms of their approach, but others are in the game, too," Krebs said. "This is a very active space, very active space.”

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CISA and the FBI issued a joint warning last month that Chinese-backed hackers were targeting U.S. organizations working to develop vaccines and other treatments for COVID-19. The agencies noted that theft of this data and research could "jeopardize the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options."

Hospitals and major agencies including the World Health Organization and the Department of Health and Human Services have been among the major targets of attackers. CISA joined the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre last month in issuing a separate alert around hackers targeting health care providers. 

Krebs said on the podcast, which was recorded last week, that the attacks were “destructive.”

“You're seeing a situation where a hospital could be impacted and their network's offline, they can't conduct clinical operations,” Krebs said. “It's not as easy as just transferring those patients to another hospital in this environment. You never know what you're transferring and indeed if you have anything you can transfer to. So we're absolutely seeing destructive attacks across the border right now.”

He said ransomware attacks, in which the attacker locks up a system and demands payment to return access to the user, were a particular worry, and one that Americans could feel an immediate impact from. 

These types of attacks have become increasingly rampant over the past year, and have temporarily taken out the networks of hospitals, school districts and major city governments, including the city networks in Minneapolis last week.

“When you talk to election officials or you talk to health care officials and you talk about Russia, you talk about China, we talk about North Korea and Iran, it doesn't always resonate with them,” Krebs said. “Ransomware is something that they intimately feel, whether it's their community or their peer networks, they see ransomware attacks on a regular basis.”