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UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. disarmament chief warned Friday that cybercrime is on the rise, with a 600% increase in malicious emails during the covid-19 pandemic.

Izumi Nakamitsu told an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the coronavirus crisis is moving the world toward increased technological innovation and online collaboration. But she said "there have also been worrying reports of [cyber] attacks against health care organizations and medical research facilities worldwide."

The high representative for disarmament affairs said growing digital dependency has increased the vulnerability to cyberattacks, and it is estimated that one such attack takes place every 39 seconds.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, she said, nearly 90 countries are still only at the early stages of making commitments to cybersecurity.

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Nakamitsu said the threat from misusing information and communications technology "is urgent."

But she said there is also good news, pointing to some global progress at the United Nations to address the threats by a group of government experts who developed 11 voluntary nonbinding norms of responsible state behavior in the use of such technology.

Estonia's Prime Minister Juri Ratas, whose country holds the Security Council presidency and organized Friday's meeting, said the need for "a secure and functioning cyberspace" is more pressing than ever. He condemned cyberattacks targeting hospitals, medical research facilities and other infrastructure, especially during the pandemic.

"Those attacks are unacceptable," Ratas said. "It will be important to hold the offenders responsible for their behavior."

Russia did not attend the informal council meeting broadcast online, which was the centerpiece of Estonia's council presidency. The other 14 council nations did, along with about 50 other nations that spoke.

Russia's U.N. Mission said in a statement on its website that it did not attend because Estonia, the U.K. and the U.S. violated "the established practice" that all council members attend informal meetings "regardless of whether they approve or disapprove its topic."

The three countries did not attend a Russian-sponsored informal meeting on Crimea on Thursday. All three oppose Russia's seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

In March, the U.S., U.K., and Estonia accused Russia's military intelligence of conducting cyberattacks against the government and media websites in Georgia, calling the attacks part of "a continuing pattern of reckless ... cyberoperations against a number of countries" that "clearly contradict Russia's attempts to claim it is a responsible actor in cyberspace."

"We have witnessed malicious cyber activity that appears designed to undermine the United States and our international partners' efforts to protect, assist, and inform the public during this global pandemic," Acting U.S. Deputy Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet told Friday's meeting.

She warned that actions hampering hospital and health care systems that perform critical services "could have deadly results."

A Section on 05/24/2020

Print Headline: Cyberattacks on rise, U.N. official warns

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