Treasury Department Warns of Increase in Covid-19 Vaccine-Related Fraud and Cybercrime

Treasury Department Warns of Increase in Covid-19 Vaccine-Related Fraud and Cybercrime
Healthcare workers receive an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at St James's Hospital in Dublin on December 29, 2020. (Photo: Marc O’Sullivan, Getty Images)

In a notice on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department warned of an uptick in cyberattacks and scams linked to covid-19 vaccines, saying ransomware poses a particular threat as criminals search for ways to exploit the ongoing public health crisis.

Certain scams linked to the vaccination efforts may include counterfeit vaccines, the agency warned, citing prior warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, which has been sounding the alarm since March over questionable products linked to treatment of the novel coronavirus. Additionally, offers involving legitimate doses of covid-19 vaccine may, in fact, be criminal, as organised crime groups work to get their hands on the real thing.

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“Already, fraudsters have offered, for a fee, to provide potential victims with the vaccine sooner than permitted under the applicable vaccine distribution plan,” Treasury said.

Ransomware remains a top concern and financial institutes are being asked to remain vigilant, particularly of supply chains required to manufacture the vaccine. Phishing attempts may also try to lure victims using fraudulent vaccine information, officials said.

Cybercriminals, they warn, “will continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic alongside legitimate efforts to develop, distribute, and administer vaccines.”

The Treasury Department is among at least five government agencies said to be infiltrated this year in a highly sophisticated supply-chain attack perpetrated, allegedly, by hackers supported by the Russian government. Efforts to understand the extent and impact of the attack could take years, experts say, due to the time and effort the hackers put into covering their tracks.