Far-right extremists have published nearly 25,000 email addresses allegedly belonging to several major organizations fighting the coronavirus pandemic, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the World Bank.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activities, has yet to confirm the addresses are genuine but said that the hackers posted the email addresses across far-right messaging and chat sites, as well as Twitter, this week.
“Using the data, far-right extremists were calling for a harassment campaign while sharing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic,” SITE Executive Director Rita Katz said. “The distribution of these alleged email credentials was just another part of a monthslong initiative across the far right to weaponize the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It is unclear where the hackers got the email addresses. Other victims of the hacks include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Gates Foundation; and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research center in the Chinese city where the COVID-19 outbreak began in December.
While those affected by the security breach did not comment on the specifics of the case, NIH and the Gates Foundation both said they consistently monitor data security and take appropriate action.
A Twitter spokeswoman said the company is taking action to remove in bulk any links that send users to far-right websites where the alleged email addresses can be found.
An Australian cybersecurity expert, Robert Potter, told The Washington Post that the WHO’s password security is appalling and that he was able to get into its computer system simply by using email addresses the WHO posted on the internet.
“Forty-eight people have ‘password’ as their password,” Potter said, adding that others used their own first name or the word “changeme.”
He said the extremists may have been able to buy the WHO passwords on what is called the dark web, a part of the internet that is not seen by search engines.
Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who monitors right-wing extremism online, said neo-Nazis and white supremacists are looking to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to stir up violence, chaos and anti-Semitism, hoping it will all lead to a collapse of society and a white power takeover.
“The fantasizing about it is not limited. They are really doing that to a great extent — openly fantasizing about how this is the event they’ve been waiting for, this is going to bring about the societal collapse they all hope for … bringing down infrastructure and so on. That’s all fantasy/hopefulness on their part.”
Squire said the password hack may be part of an effort to get people to read the WHO or Gates Foundation emails to look for what the extremists believe are conspiracies surrounding the pandemic, including far-right theories that the coronavirus was created and deliberately released from the Chinese or that COVID-19 is part of a Jewish plot.
Masood Farivar contributed to this report.