The US, UK & Canada have warned that Russians are hacking organisations researching the COVID-19 coronavirus, in what they say is “almost certainly part of Russian intelligence services.”
The authorities have not specified exactly which organisations have been targeted, nor if any information had been accessed by Russian hackers. The warning came from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Canada’s Security Establishment and the US Cyber-security Infrastructure Security Agency.
They allege that Russian hackers, codenamed APT29, or ‘Cozy Bear’, belong to an arm of the Russian intelligence service, and are targeting a range of organisations involved in vaccine research and development.
Paul Chicheter, Director of Operations at the UK’s NCSC has said “we condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.”
“ATP29 is likely to continue to target organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine research and development, as they seek to answer additional intelligence questions relating to the pandemic.”
Spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov has said that “we do not have information about who may have hacked into pharmaceutical companies and research centers in Great Britain.”
Peskov added that “we can say one thing – Russia has nothing at all to do with these attempts.”
FBI Director Chris Wray has said that “at this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organisations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”
Each of the agencies say that Russian hackers are using a combination of malicious software and social engineering to trick unwitting victims into handing over their details.
Anna Neuberger, Cybersecurity Director at the National Security Agency has said that they “remain steadfast in its commitment to protecting national security by collectively issuing this critical cyber-security advisory as foreign actors continue to take advantage of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
The US says that Cozy Bear has been linked to election interference in its 2016 presidential election, and has linked the group to hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer networks ahead of the election.
The UK, too has accused the Russian hacking collective of interfering in its 2019 General Election, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stating that “it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents.”
Raab added that “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.