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German infectious disease agency hit again by hackers after arson attack

FILE PHOTO: A broken window is pictured at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious disease in General-Pape-Strasse, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continous, in Berlin, Germany, October 25, 2020. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious disease control was targeted again by hackers on Wednesday, days after its headquarters was damaged in an arson attack, the Interior Ministry said.

Germany’s cybersecurity watchdog detected a distributed denial of service attack on the health agency’s website, the ministry said. It followed a similar cyber strike on Oct. 22.

The red-brick headquarters in Berlin of the institute, which coordinates public health measures to stem the coronavirus pandemic, was the target of a firebomb attack at the weekend that caused superficial damage. Nobody was hurt.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders are due on Wednesday to decide whether to reimpose a national lockdown in response to a steep acceleration in infections.

Although most Germans support efforts to curb the pandemic, a sceptical minority, including anti-vaccination activists, conspiracy theorists and the political far right, has staged protests.

Germany’s health infrastructure is facing a rising cyber threat, the Interior Ministry said, with hospital workers targeted by deceptive phishing mails that seek to trick them into giving away system passwords.

A patient died last month after a hospital in Duesseldorf was unable to admit her because its systems had been knocked out by a cyber attack. Prosecutors have opened a homicide investigation into what experts say is the first death caused directly by a cyber attack.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mike Harrison