Since emerging in late 2019, COVID-19 has evolved into a global pandemic. According to World Health Organization statistics, as of September 30, 2020, there were more than 33.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1 million related deaths worldwide. Having experienced and fought the SARS epidemic in 2003, Taiwan made advance preparations in the face of COVID-19, conducting early onboard screening of inbound travelers, taking stock of antipandemic supply inventories, and forming a national mask production team, writes Criminal Investigation Bureau Ministry of the Interior Republic of China (Taiwan) Commissioner Huang Ming-chao.
The government’s swift response and the Taiwanese people’s cooperation helped effectively contain the spread of the disease. The international community has been putting its resources into fighting COVID-19 in the physical world, yet the cyberworld has also been under attack, and faces major challenges.
The Cyber Attack Trends: 2020 MidYear Report published in August 2020 by Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a well-known IT security company, pointed out that COVID-19 related phishing and malware attacks increased dramatically from below 5,000 per week in February to over 200,000 in late April. At the same time as COVID-19 has seriously affected people’s lives and safety, cybercrime is undermining national security, business operations, and the security of personal information and property, causing significant damage and losses. Taiwan’s success in containing COVID-19 has won worldwide acclaim.
Faced with cyberthreats and related challenges, Taiwan has actively promoted policies built around the concept that information security is national security. It has bolstered efforts to train IT security specialists and develop the IT security industry and innovative technologies. Taiwan’s national teams are ever present when it comes to disease or cybercrime prevention.
Cybercrime knows no borders; Taiwan seeks cross-border cooperation Nations around the globe are fighting the widely condemned dissemination of child pornography, infringements on intellectual property rights, and the theft of trade secrets. Business email fraud and ransomware have also generated heavy financial losses among enterprises, while cryptocurrencies have become an avenue for criminal transactions and money laundering. Since anyone with online access can connect to any internetenabled device in the world, crime syndicates are exploiting the anonymity and freedom this provides to conceal their identities and engage in illegal activities.
The Taiwanese police force has a special unit for investigating technology crimes comprising professional cybercrime investigators. It has also established a digital forensics laboratory meeting ISO 17025 requirements. Cybercrime knows no borders, so Taiwan hopes to work with the rest of the world in jointly fighting the problem. With state-sponsored hacking rampant, intelligence sharing is essential to Taiwan. In August 2020, the US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Defense released the Malware Analysis Report, identifying a state-sponsored hacking organization that has recently been using a 2008 malware variant known as TAIDOOR to launch attacks.
Numerous Taiwanese government agencies and businesses have previously been subject to such attacks. In a 2012 report on this malware, Trend Micro Inc. observed that all of the victims were from Taiwan, and that the majority were government organizations. Every month, Taiwan’s public sector experiences an extremely high number of cyberattacks from beyond Taiwan’s borders—between 20 and 40 million instances. Being the priority target of state-sponsored attacks, Taiwan has been able to track their sources and methods and the malware used. By sharing intelligence, Taiwan could help other countries avert potential threats and facilitate the establishment of a joint security mechanism to counter state cyberthreat actors. Additionally, given that hackers often use command-and-control servers to set breakpoints and thus evade investigation, international cooperation is essential for piecing together a comprehensive picture of chains of attack. In the fight against cybercrime, Taiwan can help.
In July 2016, an unprecedented hacking infringement occurred in Taiwan when NT$83.27 million was illegally withdrawn from First Commercial Bank ATMs. Within a week, the police had recovered NT$77.48 million of the stolen funds and arrested three members of a hacking syndicate— Andrejs Peregudovs, a Latvian; Mihail Colibaba, a Romanian; and Niklae Penkov, a Moldovan—that had until then remained untouched by the law. The incident drew international attention. In September that same year, a similar ATM heist occurred in Romania. A suspect Babii was believed to be involved in both cases, leading investigators to conclude that the thefts had been committed by the same syndicate. At the invitation of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) visited its office three times to exchange intelligence and evidence. Subsequently, the two entities established Operation TAIEX.
Under this plan, the CIB provided key evidence retrieved from suspects’ mobile phones to Europol, which sieved through the evidence and identified the suspected mastermind, known as Dennys, who was then based in Spain. This led to his arrest by Europol and the Spanish police, putting an end to the hacking syndicate.
To crack down on hacking syndicates, Europol invited Taiwan’s CIB to jointly form Operation TAIEX. The fight against cybercrime requires international cooperation, and Taiwan must work together with other countries. Taiwan can help these other countries, and is willing to share its experiences so as to make cyberspace safer and realize a truly borderless internet. I ask that you support Taiwan’s participation in the annual INTERPOL General Assembly as an Observer, as well as INTERPOL meetings, mechanisms, and training activities. By voicing your backing for Taiwan in international forums, you can play a critical role in advancing Taiwan’s objective of taking part in international organizations in a pragmatic and meaningful manner. In the fight against cybercrime, Taiwan can help!
Germany wants to use Regeneron's COVID-19 antibody therapy more broadly
Germany would like to use Regeneron’s COVID-19 monoclonal antibody cocktail as a treatment for this disease more broadly but needs to finalize some details on reimbursement, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday (15 April), writes Caroline Copley.
“The drug is available in Germany, we need it much more and we want it much more and we are working on rolling it out across the nation,” he told a weekly news conference.
President von der Leyen on developments in the Vaccines Strategy
In a press statement on 14 April, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to accelerate the delivery of 50 million vaccine doses to the second quarter of this year, starting this month: “We are in a race against time. The faster we reach our target of having 70% of adults in the European Union vaccinated, the better chances we have of containing the virus. And the good news is: Vaccination is picking up speed across Europe! Member states have received over 126 million doses of vaccines as of yesterday (13 April). And I am happy to say that today we have reached 100 million vaccinations in the EU. This is a milestone that we can be proud of. Of these 100 million vaccinations, more than a quarter are second doses – which means that we have now more than 27 million people fully vaccinated I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to, once again, speed up the delivery of vaccines. 50 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines will be delivered in quarter 2 of this year, starting in April. This will bring the total doses delivered by BioNTech-Pfizer to 250 million doses in the second quarter. These doses will be distributed pro-rata to the population, among all the member states. This will substantially help consolidate the roll-out of our vaccination campaigns.” As part of preparations for the medium term, the Commission is also entering into a negotiation with BioNTech-Pfizer for a third contract, to foresee the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccine over the period of 2021 to 2023. This contract will entail that not only the production of the vaccines, but also all essential components, will be based in the EU. The President's full statement is available online in English, and French and shortly in German. You can watch it here.
Coronavirus response: Commission proposes to exempt vital goods and services distributed by the EU from VAT in times of crisis
The European Commission has proposed to exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT) goods and services made available by the European Commission, EU bodies and agencies to Member States and citizens during times of crisis. This responds to the experience gained during the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, it has shown that the VAT charged on some transactions ends up being a cost factor in procurement operations that strains limited budgets. Therefore, today'sinitiative will maximise the efficiency of EU funds used in the public interest to respond to crises, such as natural disasters and public health emergencies. It will also strengthen EU-level disaster and crisis management bodies, such as those falling under the EU's Health Union and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Once in place, the new measures will allow the Commission and other EU agencies and bodies to import and purchase goods and services VAT-free when those purchases are being distributed during an emergency response in the EU. The recipients might be Member States or third parties, such as national authorities or institutions (for example, a hospital, a national health or disaster response authority). Goods and services covered under the proposed exemption include, for instance:
- Diagnostic tests and testing materials, and laboratory equipment;
- personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, respirators, masks, gowns, disinfection products and equipment;
- tents, camp beds, clothing and food;
- search and rescue equipment, sandbags, life jackets and inflatable boats;
- antimicrobials and antibiotics, chemical threat antidotes, treatments for radiation injury, antitoxins, iodine tablets;
- blood products or antibodies;
- radiation measuring devices, and;
- development, production and procurement of necessary products, research and innovation activities, strategic stockpiling of products; pharmaceutical licences, quarantine facilities, clinical trials, disinfection of premises, etc.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that these kinds of crises are multifaceted and have a wide-ranging impact on our societies. A rapid and efficient response is essential, and we need to provide the best response now in order to prepare for the future. Today's proposal supports the EU's goal to react to crises and emergencies in the EU. It will also ensure that the financial impact of EU-level relief efforts to fight the pandemic and support the recovery is maximized.”
The legislative proposal, which will amend the VAT directive, will now be submitted to the European Parliament for its opinion, and to the Council for adoption.
Member States shall adopt and publish, by 30 April 2021 the laws regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive. They shall apply those measures from 1 January 2021.
The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp light the importance of coherent, decisive and centralised EU-level preparation and response in times of crisis. In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, the von der Leyen Commission has already outlined plans to strengthen EU preparedness and management for cross-border health threats, and presented the building blocks of a stronger European Health Union. At the same time, the Commission has proposed to strengthen cooperation between EU Member States through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism with the aim of improving responses to future natural or man-made disasters. For instance, in the context of the new European Health Union, the Commission announced the creation of the Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) to deploy rapidly the most advanced medical and other measures in the event of a health emergency, by covering the whole value chain from conception to distribution and use.
The EU has already taken action in the field of taxation and customs to support the fight against and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In April 2020, the EU agreed to waive customs and VAT charges for imports of masks and other protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic. This waiver remains in place and plans are underway for its extension. In December 2020, EU member states agreed on new measures proposed by the Commission to allow a temporary VAT exemption for vaccines and testing kits being sold to hospitals, doctors and individuals, as well as closely related services. Under the amended Directive, member states can apply either reduced or zero rates to both vaccines and testing kits if they so choose.
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