Assessing the current threat landscape six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Christopher Krebs listed nation-state spies, cybercriminals committing fraud, and the spread of disinformation as top cyberattack vectors.

“The intelligence services are doing what they always do. Spies are being spies,” Krebs said at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit today. “They’re looking to collect information on what’s really going on in the country, what’s the status of the vaccine development, what’s the economic health of the country, what are the policies that are shifting.”

Krebs raised concerns with China and Russia-based actors as leaders of spy activities. He also warned about the prevalence of cybercriminals. “They really are preying on the fact that people are concerned about COVID,” he said.

Common activities are the traditional fraud and phishing scams, but with a COVID-19 spin, “whether it’s the early days of sign up here to get tested and now we’re starting to see things about sign up here for a vaccine or early trial vaccines, things like that,” Krebs explained.

“These are very, very patient actors,” Krebs emphasized. “We’ve seen them in some cases sit on a network with persistence and maintain that persistence for quite some time watching how the system is maintained and in some cases hopping into the backup channel and then going in encrypted.”

On the spread of COVID-19 disinformation, Krebs said it was a “textbook campaign” led by China, Russia, Iran, or other unattributed groups “where it circulates in the ether, it’s going by SMS, but then it takes root in the real world.”

For example, Krebs referenced false information spreading about a link between 5G and COVID-19. “As soon as these narratives, these conspiracy theories turn into physical manifestations of violence, then we’ve got a much larger problem on our hands,” he said.

Countering disinformation will be a whole-of-society effort as the Federal government and intelligence community work to help the American people understand the campaigns and techniques used, Krebs added.

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About Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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