Elite hackers tried to break into the World Health Organization earlier this month, sources told Reuters, part of what a senior agency official said was a more than two-fold increase in cyberattacks.
WHO Chief Information Security Officer Flavio Aggio said the identity of the hackers was unclear, but the effort was unsuccessful. He warned that hacking attempts against the agency and its partners have soared as they battle to contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 15,000 worldwide.
The attempted break-in at the WHO was first flagged to Reuters by Alexander Urbelis, a cybersecurity expert and attorney with the New York-based Blackstone Law Group, which tracks suspicious internet domain registration activity.
Urbelis said he picked up on the activity around March 13, when a group of hackers he'd been following activated a malicious site mimicking the WHO's internal email system.
"I realized quite quickly that this was a live attack on the World Health Organization in the midst of a pandemic," he said.
Urbelis said he didn't know who was responsible, but two other sources briefed on the matter said they suspected an advanced group of hackers known as DarkHotel, which has been conducting cyber-espionage operations since at least 2007.
Messages sent to email addresses maintained by the hackers went unreturned.
When asked by Reuters about the incident, the WHO's Aggio confirmed that the site spotted by Urbelis had been used in an attempt to steal passwords from multiple agency staffers.
"There has been a big increase in targeting of the WHO and other cybersecurity incidents," Aggio said in a telephone interview. "There are no hard numbers, but such compromise attempts against us and the use of (WHO) impersonations to target others have more than doubled."
The motives in the case identified by Reuters aren't clear.