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Hack blamed for German coronavirus data delay

October 28, 2020

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had to delay publishing coronavirus numbers on Wednesday due to a cyberattack on its website. It was the second such attack on the RKI in less than a week.

RKI building in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national institute for disease control, was the target of a cyberattack that delayed publication of daily coronavirus numbers on Wednesday. The attack was the second in less than a week.

In both cases, hackers hit the RKI's website with so-called Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which use hijacked computers and automated bots to overwhelm a website, causing it to freeze or crash, the ITZBund federal agency for information technology said. 

Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) offered the RKI technical assistance in defending itself against future attacks — while at the same time emphasizing that the RKI is in fact capable of successfully defending itself against them. Only the RKI website, which is run by the ITZBund, was hit in the attacks. Its coronavirus dashboard — hosted on another site — and the rest of its network were left unscathed.

Read moreCoronavirus: What is Germany's Robert Koch Institute?

Spotlight brings cyber and physical attacks

After last Thursday's attack the RKI said it had not filed a criminal complaint. Nevertheless, an investigation into what exactly happened and who may have been behind the attacks has been initiated.

The ITZBund said it was not clear yet who was behind Wednesday's incident.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrust the RKI into the national spotlight. In its role as the country's leading scientific authority on infectious disease it has not only been an invaluable source for reliable information, it has also become the target of conspiracy theorists and opponents of coronavirus prevention measures.

On Sunday, the RKI's Berlin offices were attacked by arsonists. No one was injured in the incident and the perpetrators were able to flee the scene.

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js/dr (AFP, dpa)