US Treasury Warns of Increasing Ransomware Campaigns Against Coronavirus Vaccine Research Institutions

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a warning that alerts financial institutions in the United States about increasing ransomware attacks against coronavirus vaccine research organizations.

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

According to the alert, FinCEN says that fraud, ransomware attacks, and “similar types of criminal activity” target the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, which could affect their supply chains if proper actions are not taken on time.

The alert reads as follow in regards to ransomware campaigns:

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.

Within the attacks, the bureau states that phishing schemes are on the rise by placing misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines as bait to catch victims. The alert provides a series of steps that institutions should follow to report such incidents to FinCEN.

The warning was published the same day that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued two emergency authorizations for coronavirus vaccines.

Financial Companies That Facilitate Ransomware Payments Could Face Sanctions

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

In fact, the OFAC warns:

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…