Cozy Bear Hackers Target Covid-19 Research Centres in UK, US and Canada

An advisory published by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warns of activity by Russian hacking group APT29 and explicitly calls out efforts to target the US, UK, and Canadian vaccine research, according to CNN.  Cyber actors from the Russian hacking group, which also goes by the name “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear”, are targeting organisations involved in coronavirus vaccine development, according to the new warning issued today. APT29 uses a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMail”, according to the NCSC, who have also assessed that the hacking group “almost certainly operate[s] as part of Russian Intelligence Services.”

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Jake Moore
Jake Moore , Cybersecurity Specialist
InfoSec Expert
July 17, 2020 9:53 am

Criminal attackers revel in the weaknesses that humans offer. They are quick to target vulnerabilities, wherever they may lie. Such organisations conducting the research would not usually find themselves such a target, like financial institutions often are, but currently a coronavirus vaccine is more valuable. Research centers are the epicenter for the latest and most up-to-date information on a vaccine – therefore, threat actors from all over the world are all descending on them at once. What is interesting here, however, is that the accusations are more heavily emphasized on Russia, rather than suggesting ‘nation-state hackers’.

With the latest risks attached to home working and remote logging in, extra protection is vital for all organisations, especially when the threats are now positioned even further afield around the world. Many attacks will start with extremely well-crafted, targeted spearphishing emails, which look genuine to the untrained eye. Anyone in these research centers must remain extra vigilant to the heightened threat and urge caution with all lines of communication.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jake Moore
Faiz Shuja
Faiz Shuja , Co-Founder & CEO
InfoSec Expert
July 20, 2020 8:20 am

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our systems have been capturing the changing patterns of security attacks experienced in the Security Operations Centres (SOCs) of our enterprise customers. The data points to a significant increase in state-sponsored APT attacks as nations look to take advantage of the perceived weaknesses of others, or to steal or destroy their COVID research from universities, pharmaceuticals and research institutes.

At the SOC-level there has been a noticeable rise in alert volumes and anyone dealing with alerts manually has been overwhelmed. One way organisations look to ease the strain on their SOC is to introduce automation that can respond to these alerts through a range of playbooks – for example for phishing analysis. This playbook will stipulate that if an email looks like it contains malware it can be sandboxed for analysis and given a risk score. If that score indicates that there is malware present, the email is blocked and deleted. With automation, this only takes a few seconds to complete.

Last edited 2 years ago by Faiz Shuja
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