Foreign intelligence agencies and state-sponsored cybercriminals are engaged in a massive campaign aimed at stealing Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine testing information, securing advance warnings on Canada’s public health and border measures, and spreading coronavirus conspiracy theories, a new report says.
The report from Canada’s cyber defence agency, the Communications Security Establishment, builds on its previous COVID-19 alerts, which warned that cybercriminals have “spoofed” many Government of Canada webpages in attempts to scam citizens. The new report outlines the stunning scale of these spoofing and phishing attacks, and new strategic directions.
The cyber defence agency is “aware of over 120,000 newly registered COVID-19 themed domains, a large proportion of which was considered malicious or related to fraudulent activity,” the April 27 report says.
Over 1,500 of these fake Government of Canada COVID-19 pages were taken down by the agency, spokesman Ryan Foreman told Global News.
“State intelligence collection requirements have shifted in response to COVID-19”
Foreman said that during May, the agency believes COVID-19 scams declined but there is a growing threat from espionage targeting Canada’s medical research and supply chains, and potentially grave consequences.
“Ransomware attacks against health-care providers, research facilities, and medical manufacturers will have negative consequences on patient care and hinder the development and production of Canadian medical research and domestic supply chains,” the report says.
“Authoritarian” states are named as threat actors in the report, but specific governments are not identified.
The agency has previously stated “it is almost certain that actors likely associated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of State Security (MSS)” were responsible for similar cyberattacks against Canada and its allies, in order to gain “access to multiple client systems and large amounts of sensitive data, leading to loss of proprietary information, disruption to business operations, financial loss.”
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The report assesses that foreign spies are targeting Canadian pandemic-related supply chains partly because of the nation’s world-leading “health and biotechnology.”
“Many of Canada’s companies and research universities are leading the world’s efforts to rapidly manufacture highly efficient COVID-19 testing kits and develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” the report says. “State-sponsored cyber threat actors are increasingly targeting the health sector, including government health agencies, almost certainly to obtain intellectual property and other sensitive data pertaining to COVID-19 medical research.”