Above: Texas-based software company SolarWinds was the victim of a large-scale data breach in 2020.

Below: In December, IBM uncovered a hacking campaign targeted at the Covid-19 vaccine cold chain.

Anti-vaxxers going viral $9bn

The proposed investment in US cybersecurity by the Biden administration.


In many cases, the target is not an organisation at all. Some malicious actors have sought to disrupt vaccine rollout by disseminating false information about the virus or the vaccine. In the UK, the British Army’s 77th Brigade information warfare unit is helping officials detect anti-vaxxer messages of this kind. It is trying to determine whether foreign states are driving anti- vaccine sentiment in the country as a means of undermining trust in the government and sowing division. According to the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, around 50 million people follow anti- vaccine groups on social media, which creates a large base of susceptibility to disinformation campaigns. The campaign group has called Covid a ‘growth opportunity’ for anti-vaxxers. “In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, the population’s ability to separate fact from fiction has the potential to save lives,” says Morgus. “Disinformation operations can enable adversaries

to create discord, which jeopardises our ability to effectively manage a crisis like Covid-19.” He thinks public education initiatives can build resilience to disinformation, describing them as the most effective and sustainable way to defeat these campaigns over the long term. “It’s further crucial that the US and other governments facilitate an ecosystem of non- governmental organisations that can help identify disinformation and bring it to light,” he says. On the flip side, many pro-vaccine individuals have been targeted by vaccine-related phishing campaigns. In these instances, scammers send texts and emails promising information on the Covid vaccine, or inviting people to receive the vaccine in return for their personal and financial information. One such email, purporting to be from the NHS, asks the recipient to click on a link, and then asks for their bank card details. The health service has teamed up with law enforcement and security agencies to remind the public that the vaccine is only available for free on the NHS, and that anyone asking for payment is committing fraud.

A shot in the arm Vaccine-related cybercrime, then, represents something of a moving target – and for institutions that stand to be affected, flexibility and responsiveness are key. Governments, meanwhile, are harnessing all the intelligence at their disposal. The Biden administration has said it is looking to “counter any threat to the vaccine programme”, notably by assessing “ongoing cyberthreats and foreign interference campaigns”. President Biden has proposed a $9bn investment in cybersecurity, as well as tapping a number of former national security officials for his cybersecurity team. Similarly, the UK’s new Integrated Review, unveiled in March, places cybersecurity front and centre, even classifying ‘cyber’ as an emerging military domain. The government is also creating a National Cyber Force, including personnel from the military, GCHQ and intelligence services.

Morgus says the CSC will primarily be focusing on implementing its existing set of recommendations. “While we were able to make significant progress on this, with 27 recommendations implemented in provisions of the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act, there is still significant work to be done,” he says. “We particularly need to focus on enhancing cyber resilience, building a more secure overarching cyber ecosystem, and helping individuals and small businesses cope with cybercrime.” Really, anyone involved with the vaccine rollout – whether organisation, governmental body or individual – can’t be careful enough about cybersecurity. With public health in contention, there’s even more than usual at stake. ●

20 Defence & Security Systems International /

Travel_with_me/; Hakan GERMAN

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