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Nearly 25,000 email addresses and passwords belonging to members of the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as a host of others that have been on the front lines of the coronavirus fight have been posted online, according to SITE Intelligence Group.
SITE, which monitors online extremism and terrorist groups, said the stolen information was released Sunday and Monday and almost immediately used to incite harassment and hate seen by far-right extremists, according to VICE, which first reported the news.
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“Neo-Nazis and white supremacists capitalized on the lists and published them aggressively across their venues,” Rita Katz, SITE’s executive director said. “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.”
Robert Potter, an Australian cybersecurity expert, confirmed to The Washington Post that the hacked WHO email addresses and passwords were real. He said he was able to gain access to the WHO’s computer systems using the new information posted on the Internet.
Fox News has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the stolen cyber material.
The lists of online private information first surfaced on 4chan, a notorious message board known for extreme political commentary and bigoted rhetoric. After 4chan, it was later sent to text storage site Pastebin, then to Twitter and a handful of other far-right extremists on the messaging app Telegram.
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SITE’s report said the largest number of stolen emails and passwords — 9,938 — came from the NIH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had 6,857 stolen IDs, followed by the World Bank at 5,120 and the WHO at 2,732.
The Gates Foundation, which has been hacked though not to the same extent as others, announced last week it would be donating $150 million to fight COVID-19 following President Trump’s decision to pull millions of dollars in funding during a global crisis.
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Also targeted in the cyber attack was the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese research complex at the center of the city. The U.S. is investigating whether the pandemic originated from the lab, as opposed to a nearby wet market.
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While hackers are skilled, Potter said some institutions like the WHO could do a better job at cybersecurity.
“Their password security is appalling, he said. “Forty-eight people have ‘password’ as their password,” he said. Others used their first names.
Last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., publicly called out the NIH for a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan lab, saying the funding could be eliminated with the stroke of a pen.