UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. disarmament chief warns 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 on Friday 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.
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 expert who developed 11 voluntary non-binding 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."
Estonia was the target of a massive three-week cyberattack during a dispute with Russia in 2007 over Estonia's removal of the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial from the center of the capital, Tallinn. The attack disabled the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks and companies.
Since then, Estonia has built its cyber defenses and become one of the most wired societies in Europe and a pioneer in the development of "e-government." Being highly dependent on computers, it is also highly vulnerable to cyberattack.
As the United States closed in on 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, The New York Times devoted Sunday's entire, photo-less front page to a list of nearly 1,000 names of pandemic victims with a few words in memorial for each, culled from obituaries published around the country. “Continued on Page 12,” it read at bottom right.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump played golf at one of his courses Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend as he urged U.S. states to reopen after coronavirus-related lockdowns. Yet many Americans remained cautious as the number of confirmed cases nationwide passed 1.6 million.
In California, where many businesses and recreational activities are reopening, officials in Los Angeles County said they would maintain tight restrictions until July 4. Some religious leaders took issue with Trump’s declaration that houses of worship are “essential” and should resume in-person services this weekend.
“Being at the epicenter of this pandemic and in order to protect our flock, we advise that congregations remain closed until more accurate and uniform information is provided,” said Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who oversees the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s congregations in the hard-hit New York City region.
Statewide, New York reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus deaths — 84 — in many weeks in what Gov. Andrew Cuomo described as a critical benchmark. The daily death tally peaked at 799 on April 8.
Trump played golf at one of his private clubs for the first time during the pandemic — the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. He has been pushing for state and local leaders to fully reopen after months after closures and tight restrictions.
Trump also planned Memorial Day visits to Arlington National Cemetery and the Fort McHenry national monument in Baltimore.
In just a few months, the pandemic has killed at least 338,000 people worldwide and infected more than 5.2 million, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. It says more than 96,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States.
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