Tips to stop cyber attacks during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Monday, 01 March, 2021

Tips to stop cyber attacks during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

The healthcare sector has become a target for hackers in recent years, with millions of attacks on its clients. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia could see cybercriminals attempting to steal a cache of private information to sell on the dark web. Organisations must secure the data of patients receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, with public trust in the vaccine effort at risk if they do not.

Tom Kellermann, VMWare Carbon Black’s head of cybersecurity strategy, warns that hackers will direct intrusion efforts towards organisations involved in the registration and tracking of distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, to access valuable personal data.

For Australians seeking the vaccine, the cyber threats could come in the form of watering hole attacks, where unsuspecting victims are directed to a phishing website or portals and prompted to enter sensitive data which is then delivered to hackers. From there, hackers can take the data and put it for sale on dark web forms, offering promises of account breaches and identity theft to the highest bidder.

The threats outlined above present serious consequences for an efficient vaccine rollout; aside from the obvious impact of disruptions to vaccine distribution, a loss in public trust due to breaches around the rollout must also be avoided.

Kellermann has outlined basic best practices that individuals and organisations can take to gain ‘cyber immunity’. If employed on a broad scale, these practices can reduce the risk of vaccine-related cyber attacks.

Kellermann recommends keeping networks separate, wherever possible. For organisations, traffic between networks should be limited by strict policies. At home, individuals should use multiple router networks, assigning one for personal use and another for professional activities.

Organisations and individuals should also implement multi-factor authentication wherever possible, as this provides a significant deterrent against hackers seeking easy intrusions. Kellermann notes that most cyber attacks exploit unpatched vulnerabilities, and urges individuals and organisations to automate the deployment of critical updates to all operating systems and applications.

Kellermann acknowledged that detecting abnormal and anomalous behaviour on networks is too great a task for human beings. State-of-the-art automated endpoint protection platforms (EPPs) can be employed across networks and endpoints to detect intruders the moment they enter a system. Once installed, threat hunting must be conducted regularly; threat hunting occurs when security teams seek out behavioural anomalies rather than relying on alerts.

Social engineering attacks, where hackers use current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine rollout to trick victims into sharing sensitive information or downloading malware, remain a popular strategy for attackers. Kellermann notes that the best defence against these attacks is to exercise caution and be careful of what you click on.

Kellermann also warns individuals and organisations not to click on hyperlinks; instead, cut and paste them into a browser and inspect the URL to know which website you are accessing before you get there.

“As is the case with COVID-19 itself, taking the proper precautions is not only in your own interest, but also in the interest of those around you. Implement these cybersecurity best practices to mitigate a digital pandemic and thus ensure that the vaccine is delivered to those who need it as quickly and securely as possible,” Kellermann said.

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