Daily US Times: Security services have warned Russian spies are targeting organisations trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine in the US, UK and Canada.
The hackers “almost certainly” operated as “part of Russian intelligence services”, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said.
The NCSC did not specify which organisations had been targeted, or whether any information had been stolen, but confirmed vaccine research had not been hindered by the hackers.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.”
“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health,” he said.
The warning was published by an international group of security services including the United States Department for Homeland Security (DHS) Cyber-security Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the US National Security Agency (NSA), the UK’s NCSC and the Canadian Communication Security Establishment (CSE).
The US, UK and Canadian agencies said the hackers had exploited software flaws to get access to vulnerable computer systems, and had used malware called WellMess and WellMail to download and upload files from infected machines.
The Russian spies are also said to have tricked individuals into handing over login credentials with spear-phishing attacks.
Prof Ross Anderson from the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory said the Russians were unlikely to be the only ones involved in such a campaign.
“They have lots of people, we have lots of people, the Americans have even more people, as do the Chinese,” the cyber-security expert said.
“They are all trying to steal this kind of stuff all the time.”
The report from the security services includes recommendations that can help protect organisations from cyber-attacks.
It said: “Throughout 2020, APT29 has targeted various organisations involved in Covid-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of Covid-19 vaccines.”
The UK government also said on Thursday that Russians had “almost certainly” sought to interfere in the 2019 UK general election through illicitly-acquired documents.
In recent years, western security agencies have become more willing to call out hackers targeting organisations and companies in their countries in the hope it will deter them. But the latest accusations are more unusual since officials are directly pointing the finger at Russian spies rather than talking generally.
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