Hackers attempt to breach World Health Organization with phishing site, and fail

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Social Engineers attempted to breach the World Health Organization (WHO) using a fake site which mimicked the WHO’s internal email system. They failed.

Amidst the general negativity currently flowing across the internet, it’s nice to have a moment of respite and read about something good. In this case the positive news comes in the form of a foiled hacking attempt aimed at the World Health Organization.

First reported to Reuters by Alexander Urbelis, New York-based attorney and cyber-security expert at Blackstone Law group, a firm specialising in tracking suspicious internet domain registration activity. Urbelis had been tracking a group of hackers for some time. He saw the group activate a malicious site which mimicked the WHO’s internal email system and realised a serious attack could be developing.

“I realized quite quickly that this was a live attack on the World Health Organization in the midst of a pandemic.”

Alexander Urbelis

While Urbelis was unclear of the original source group of the attack, two other sources suspected it to be an “elite” group of hackers known as DarkHotel, a well-established cyber-espionage group.

WHO Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Flavio Aggio confirmed the site as an attempt to steal passwords from users in the organisation, and that they were unsuccessful. He also warned that during the coronavirus pandemic, hacking attempts have increased significantly.

“There has been a big increase in targeting of the WHO and other cybersecurity incidents, there are no hard numbers, but such compromise attempts against us and the use of (WHO) impersonations to target others have more than doubled.”

Flavio Aggio

The WHO had already taken action to warn its staff of criminals masquerading as WHO staff through phishing emails or sites, and this early warning may have contributed greatly to the overall failure of the phishers campaign.

There is no doubt that while the deadly coronavirus outbreak holds the attention of media outlets and organisations worldwide, hackers are working overtime to increase their attack force towards potentially distracted victims.

It is during times like these that security awareness training and routine simulated phishing exercises are even more important. With many staff now working from home, where cyber hygiene is notoriously harder to manage, the threats posed from cyber attacks are greater than ever.

At Phishing Tackle, we encourage all readers to increase the cyber awareness of themselves and their colleagues, and we have even created a free test which reveals the susceptibility of your users to clicking on a phishing email. Check out our Free Click-Prone® Test now, it even has the option of a coronavirus phishing template.