Barr Says FBI Probing If Foreign Government Responsible for HHS Cyber-Attack

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
March 18, 2020Updated: March 18, 2020

Attorney General William Barr said that the FBI is actively investigating the source behind the recent cyber attack on Health and Human Services (HHS) computer networks.

“Our primary role right now is to investigate,” Barr told the Associated Press in an interview. “The FBI is very active, trying to determine who is responsible for these things.”

On Monday, a National Security Council spokesman said in a statement that the federal government was investigating a “cyber incident related to the Health and Human Services computer networks.” HHS officials said they began noticing “a great deal of enhanced activity” on the HHS systems and website on Sunday and that the agency was working with federal law enforcement over the matter. The officials added that despite the incident, the department’s website was still functioning normally.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar clarified during a White House press conference on Monday that the incident did not cause any degradation of the function of the department networks.

“We had no penetration into our networks. We had no degradation of the functioning of our networks. We had no limitation of our capacity for people to telework. We’ve taken very strong defensive actions,” Azar said.

He added that the source of the “enhanced activity remains under investigation,” and that he would not speculate on the source of it.

A U.S. official told Bloomberg News that a foreign state is suspected in the attack, but the administration has not confirmed who it was.

Barr told the newswire that the federal government would take “severe” actions against anyone or any foreign governments who attempt to spread fear in the United States in the midst of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the new coronavirus.

“When you’re dealing with something like a denial of service attack on HHS during a pandemic, that’s a very grave action for another country to take,” Barr said. “So, if it is another country doing this, I’m sure the ramifications will be severe.”

This comes after the attorney general instructed U.S. attorneys nationwide to prioritize prosecutions and investigations of scammers, fraudsters, and cybercriminals who are seeking to take advantage of the public panic over the coronavirus outbreak.

Barr issued a directive on March 16 urging federal prosecutors to “prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.”

“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic, and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Barr said in the memo, while citing examples of individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus.

He also said that there were also reports of bad actors online who were engaging in fraud by sending out phishing emails posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Justice Department is also monitoring companies and businesses for any violations of anti-trust laws in their attempt to profit from the fear of the outbreak.

The department cautioned that individuals and companies who fix prices or rig bids on items such as sterile gloves, protective masks, and other personal protective equipment could face criminal prosecution. It also warned against allocating consumers of public health products among competitors.

The Epoch Times refers to the coronavirus as the CCP virus because the regime’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.