State actors were likely behind Singapore’s biggest-ever cyberattack to date, security experts said, citing the scale and sophistication of the hack.
Hackers broke into a government database and stole the health records of 1.5 million Singaporeans, including Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍), who was specifically targeted in the “unprecedented” attack, the city-state announced on Friday.
The strike was “a deliberate, targeted and well-planned cyberattack and not the work of casual hackers or criminal gangs,” Singaporean Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong (顏金勇) said.
While officials refused to comment on the identity of the hackers citing “operational security,” experts told reporters that the complexity of the attack and its focus on high-profile targets such as the prime minister pointed to the hand of a state actor.
“A cyberespionage threat actor could leverage disclosure of sensitive health information ... to coerce an individual in [a] position of interest to conduct espionage” on its behalf, said Eric Hoh, Asia-Pacific president of cybersecurity firm FireEye.
Hoh told national broadcaster Channel NewsAsia that the attack was an “advanced persistent threat.”
“The nature of such attacks is that they are conducted by nation states using very advanced tools,” he said. “They tend to be well-resourced, well-funded and highly sophisticated.”
Healthcare data is of particular interest to cyberattackers, because it can be used to blackmail people in positions of power, said Jeff Middleton, CEO of cybersecurity consultancy Lantium.
“A lot of information about a person’s health can be gleaned from the medications that they take,” Middleton told reporters yesterday.
“Any nonpublic health information could be used for extortion. Russian spy services have a long history of doing this,” Middleton added.
Medical information, such as personal data, can also be easily monetized on criminal forums, Darktrace Asia-Pacific managing director Sanjay Aurora said.
“Beyond making a quick buck, a more sinister reason to attack would be to cause widespread disruption and systemic damage to the healthcare service — as a fundamental part of critical infrastructure — or to undermine trust in a nation’s competency to keep personal data safe,” he told reporters.
Wealthy Singapore is hyper-connected and on a drive to digitize government records and essential services, including medical records, which public hospitals and clinics can share via a centralized database.
However, authorities have put the brakes on these plans while they investigate the cyberattack.
A former judge is to head an inquiry into the incident.
The hackers used a computer infected with malware to gain access to the database between June 27 and July 4 before administrators spotted “unusual activity,” authorities said.
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