US Treasury Cautions of Ransomware Campaigns Increase Against Covid-19 Vaccine Research Facilities

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The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the U.S. Treasury Department released a notice alerting financial institutions in the U.S. about increasing ransomware attacks against research organisations for coronavirus vaccines.

US Treasury Warns of Ransomware Attacks, Phishing Schemes Targeting Covid-19 Institutions of Vaccine Research

According to the warning, FinCEN notes that the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines is threatened by fraud, ransomware attacks, and “similar types of criminal activity,” which could disrupt their supply chains if proper action is not taken on time.

Regarding ransomware campaigns, the warning reads as follows:

“Cybercriminals, including ransomware operators, will continue to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic alongside legitimate efforts to develop, distribute, and administer vaccines. FinCEN is aware of ransomware directly targeting vaccine research, and FinCEN asks financial institutions to stay alert to ransomware targeting vaccine delivery operations as well as the supply chains required to manufacture the vaccines.”

As part of the attacks, the Bureau maintains that phishing schemes are on the rise by misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines as a bait to catch victims. The alert sets out a number of steps that institutions should take to report such incidents to FinCEN.

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The warning was published on the same day as the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued two emergency authorisations for coronavirus vaccines.

Financial Companies That Facilitate Ransomware Payments Could Face Sanctions

But ransomware campaigns have another component that puts extra weight on the back of financial institutions. On October 1st, 2020 the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory to highlight the risk of sanctions associated with ransomware crypto payments.

In reality, the OFAC cautions:

“Companies that facilitate ransomware payments to cyber actors on behalf of victims, including financial institutions, cyber insurance firms, and companies involved in digital forensics and incident response, not only encourage future ransomware payment demands but also may risk violating OFAC regulations.”

On December 19, 2020, it was reported that U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a warning to the private sector about incidents of harassment of victims by ransomware gangs via telephone calls.

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