The International Committee of the Red Cross was the target of a cyberattack this week that compromised the data of 515,000 people the organization described as “highly vulnerable.”
At least 60 Red Cross and Red Cresent National Societies across the world were impacted by the attack, which has been described as sophisticated.
The attack put in jeopardy the personal data and confidential information of people “separated from their families due to conflict, migration and disaster, missing persons and their families, and people in detention,” according to the ICRC.
The organization said the target of the attack was an external company in Switzerland that stores the ICRC’s data. The perpetrator of the attack remains unknown. No data involved has been leaked or publicly shared at this time.
“An attack on the data of people who are missing makes the anguish and suffering for families even more difficult to endure. We are all appalled and perplexed that this humanitarian information would be targeted and compromised,” said ICRC’s director-general Robert Mardini in a statement on Jan. 19. “This cyber-attack puts vulnerable people, those already in need of humanitarian services, at further risk.”
“While we don’t know who is responsible for this attack, or why they carried it out, we do have this appeal to make to them,” he said.
“Your actions could potentially cause yet more harm and pain to those who have already endured untold suffering,” Mardini added. “The real people, the real families behind the information you now have are among the world’s least powerful.
Mardini called on the international public to “do the right thing.”
“Do not share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data,” he implored.
As a result of the security breach, the ICRC is shutting down the Restoring Family Links program. The program’s mission is “to reunite family members separated by conflict, disaster or migration.” The organization said it was actively trying to find workarounds so its efforts could continue.
“We are taking this breach extremely seriously,” said Mardini. “We are working closely with our humanitarian partners worldwide to understand the scope of the attack and take the appropriate measures to safeguard our data in the future.”
The security breach is the latest challenge the Red Cross has faced in recent months.
The American Red Cross announced its first-ever blood shortage this month, attributing a lack of donations to the COVID-19 pandemic.