Mar 16, 2020 - Technology

U.S. health department hit by cyberattack during coronavirus outbreak

The US Department of Health and Human Services building

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services, which has been at the forefront of the Trump administration's coronavirus response, was hit with a cyberattack over the weekend, Bloomberg News first reported and Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The attack comes in the midst of the Trump administration's efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 4,000 people in the U.S.

What they're saying: “We are aware of a cyber incident related to the Health and Human Services computer networks and the federal government is investigating this incident thoroughly," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot told Axios. 

  • "HHS and federal government cybersecurity professionals are continuously monitoring and taking appropriate actions to secure our federal networks. HHS and federal networks are functioning normally at this time.”
  • HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said: "On Sunday, we became aware of a significant increase in activity on HHS cyber infrastructure and are fully operational as we actively investigate the matter. Early on while preparing and responding to COVID-19, HHS put extra protections in place. We are coordinating with federal law enforcement."
  • It was not immediately clear who was behind the incident.

Meanwhile on Sunday, false text messages began circulating disinformation that the Trump administration was preparing for a national quarantine, something the NSC declared as "FAKE," late Sunday night.

  • It is not clear whether the messages were tied to the cyberattack, but the administration is investigating whether the two are related, according to a Trump administration official.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from HHS.

Go deeper