• Various organizations have been targeted by hackers amid the coronavirus pandemic
  • Nearly 25,000 emails and passwords linked to the organizations were posted online
  • Among the targets was the Wuhan laboratory at the center of COVID-19 conspiracy theories

The Wuhan laboratory — at the center of conspiracy theories regarding the origins of the new coronavirus — was among the facilities recently targeted by hackers. Altogether, hackers leaked nearly 25,000 employees' email addresses and login credentials.

According to Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Intelligence Group, hackers leaked thousands of supposed email addresses and passwords from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Of the targets, the NIH had the largest leaked information with over 9,000 accounts, followed by the CDC with 6,857, World Bank with 5,129 and the WHO with 2,732.

Although SITE was unable to verify the lists' origins or whether the leaked data was authentic, the WHO reportedly confirmed about 450 email addresses and passwords were leaked. According to The Washington Post, Australian cybersecurity expert Robert Potter verified the leaked WHO email addresses and passwords were real. In fact, he gained access to WHO computer systems using the leaked email addresses and passwords.

The lists were reportedly first posted on 4chan, Pastebin and Telegram. According to SITE, the data was "almost immediately" used to instigate hacking and harassment by far-right extremists.

"Neo-Nazis and white supremacists capitalized on the lists and published them aggressively across their venues," SITE Executive Director Rita Katz said, according to The Washington Post. "Using the data, far-right extremists were calling for a harassment campaign while sharing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic. The distribution of these alleged email credentials were just another part of a months-long initiative across the far right to weaponize the covid-19 pandemic."

According to the WHO, the number of cyberattacks against the organization was now over five times more than this time last year. And, since the targets were in some ways part of the conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, SITE suggested the aim was to harass staff and retrieve sensitive COVID-19 information.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly declined to comment on the reported hacking, but it previously confirmed it was seeing evidence of foreign state-sponsored hacking of COVID-19 research institutions in the U.S., likely in relation to work on potential treatments.

Recently, the Pentagon was also targeted by hackers who were taking advantage of Department of Defense employees working from home. They did this by tricking users into clicking links that could steal their information or by targeting the device from where they logged on.

The existence of the lab has fuelled conspiracy theories that the germ spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, specifically its P4 laboratory
The existence of the lab has fuelled conspiracy theories that the germ spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, specifically its P4 laboratory AFP / Hector RETAMAL