• Kyodo

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A key disease control center in Japan in the fight against the novel coronavirus experienced a huge surge in cyberattacks in 2020, with the figure quadrupling to around 5.3 million from around 1.2 million in 2019 before the outbreak of the pandemic, center officials told Kyodo News on Friday.

The National Center for Global Health and Medicine said the attacks, with many originating in China and Russia, did not lead to the leak of confidential research or personal information due to robust cybersecurity measures.

The monthly average of attacks in 2019 was around 100,000 but leapt to some 440,000 cases in 2020, according to Kengo Miyo, the head of the center’s medical informatics intelligence.

January saw around 825,000 cases, with the figure rising to 964,000 in February.

Most of the attacks were primitive attempts — phishing emails with electronic attachments containing viruses or links to fraudulent websites.

However, since the latter half of last year, an increasing number of hackers have used more sophisticated EMOTET malware, which steals the content of past emails and attempts to dupe email readers into thinking they have received replies from people and organizations they know.

Overseas health institutions are also facing cyberattacks related to the novel coronavirus.

The European Medicines Agency, a key agency in the European Union’s fight against COVID-19, was victimized last year when documents related to medicines and vaccines against the virus were unlawfully accessed and leaked online, according to the agency.

Malicious operators have hacked health care organizations, apparently taking advantage of their vulnerability brought on by the pandemic such as the critical situation on the medical front.

Miyo said medical industries will be required to further rely on electronic connections with the outside world in the near future such as by using cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

“The intensification of cyberattacks is in another dimension altogether,” Miyo said. “Implementing new defense systems is necessary through exchanges of information on damage, attack methods and countermeasures.”

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