Report: COVID-19 has Exacerbated Cyber Threats from China

State-sponsored cyber-attackers have “capitalized” on the global Coronavirus pandemic, a new report by Recorded Future and the Insikt Group finds.

“Throughout the pandemic, the tactics used by threat actors have evolved to focus on the most pressing, timely concerns and exploit those public fears and uncertainty that present the greatest opportunity for successful victimization,” the report states. China has coordinated “aggressive” disinformation campaigns targeting Western democracies to build support for their own systems of governance, which is part of a broader long-term campaign. Both countries also targeted health care industries to steal business information and gain an economic advantage.

In May of last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint statement warning that China had upped its cyber-espionage operations targeting U.S. research institutions and pharmaceutical companies in an effort to steal proprietary information to develop a vaccine. More recently, cyber-attacks have sought to disrupt vaccine distribution and spread misinformation. Today, the New York Times reported that a covert pro-Huawei, Chinese disinformation influence campaign has been taking place in Belgium. The campaign used fake Twitter accounts, amplified by Huawei officials, to spread positive articles about the company and negative views of Belgium’s 5G policy. 

Chinese attacks on U.S. companies, not only the health care sector, have also increased during the pandemic, according to experts. VMWare reported late last year that cyber-attacks on U.S. financial institutions jumped 238 percent between February and April of 2020.

A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in December found that the U.S. financial services industry is targeted as much as three times more than other industries by cyber-attackers.