Hackers might have managed to steal sensitive data from multiple organizations actively involved in the fight against COVID-19. A database full of user credentials that include email addresses and passwords, belonging to approximately 25,000 members of WHO (World Health Organization), NIH (National Health Institute), and The Gates Foundation, and multiple more organizations such as The World Bank and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have been dumped on the dark web by unknown cybercriminals.
The leaked data, first spotted by a US-based counterterrorism organization specializing in tracking and analyzing online activity of the global extremist community, was said to have been immediately utilized by right-wing activists. They have been using the information to harass and attack the organizations. Multiple independent researchers have been able to verify that parts of the leaked data are authentic. The list of credentials was first posted on 4chan and then quickly made its way to Twitter, Telegram, and Pastebin.
The stolen credentials belonging to WHO reflect for a bit more than 10% of the entries; approximately 40% is said to be coming from NIH, and CDC and The World Bank got about 20% each. The rest are spread among members from other organizations such as the Gates Foundation and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. WHO confirmed the accident and said that only 457 out of the nearly 7000 entries in the stolen database are still active.
Experts believe that the data dump might be from a hack that happened back in 2016. According to VICE, Motherboard ran a series of the email addresses through the haveibeenpwned.com website, and each entry showed that it is already there suggesting that the list might consist of previous data breaches, and this data dump might be a way for foreign states to fuel conspiracy theories and disinformation.
The news comes as another big hit on WHO just a week after President Trump loudly announced that it is stopping the funding of the health organization. The Gates Foundation said in a statement that they do not indicate a data breach at the moment. The rest of the affected organizations have not commented or have declined to comment.
The uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus has given an opportunity for hackers and foreign states to implement sophisticated cyber-attacks. While this particular data dump is likely a compilation of old hacks, everyone needs to maintain high-level digital hygiene, and one of the first steps towards not becoming a victim is to install trustworthy antivirus software on all your connected devices.