Cybersecurity experts warn hackers may try to disrupt vaccine distribution systems

Coronavirus

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — As the government prepares to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to U.S. retailers and pharmacies, cybersecurity experts are warning hackers will instantly get more chances to disrupt the vaccine distribution system.

Retailers and pharmacies nationwide say they’re preparing for a fresh round of “bot” attacks expected to target the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain.

These so-called “scalper bots” are automated programs know for cutting digital lines. They stockpile limited-supplies of high-demand items within milliseconds of their release.

It’s the same technology that was used to stockpile Sony PlayStation consoles during the holiday shopping season. This made them nearly impossible to find. The electronics then made their way to online auction sites with higher markups.

Now, the stakes are infinitely higher. The bots would specifically target appointments for the COVID-19 vaccines, with the goal of undermining national security, the health of Americans, and their confidence in the system.

Cybersecurity expert Carlos Perez says the attacks feed on existing paranoia.

“Right now, there’s certain groups of people that are worried about the vaccine. You know, like, ’It hasn’t been tested, we don’t know if it’s secure,’ and all of a sudden you go into the systems and you alter the information— you create chaos,” Perez explained.

CVS said its program could thwart bot attacks. “Our online vaccination appointment site has a layered defense that includes capabilities to detect automated cyberattacks, such as botnets. Those capabilities, together with our application design and user input validation, enable us to validate legitimate users,” the company said in a statement.

Experts stress the goal isn’t to get the appointments but to wreak havoc on vaccine distribution, the U.S. economy and the nation’s ability to recover from the pandemic. They point to horror stories from the past few weeks; people trying to secure vaccination appointments from government sources, with some blaming bots for site crashes and stolen slots.

Cybersecurity expert Dr. Russell Handorf says for the hackers, there’s no bar too low.

“They will detonate ransomware on a hospital,” he says. “That has a direct impact on the life and safety of other people.”

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