Spy Agencies: Russian Hackers Targeted Vaccine Research
A group known as ‘Cozy Bear,’ believed to have also attacked the 2016 DNC convention, continues to attack U.S., British and Canadian efforts to find a COVID vaccine.
A patient receives a shot of a potential COVID-19 vaccine in a clinical trial in Seattle in March. A British intelligence service reports that hackers likely associated with the Russian government have attempted to steal vaccine information.THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A HACKING NETWORK almost certainly working on behalf of the Russian government has as recently as this year attempted to steal information related to Western development of a vaccine for the coronavirus, the intelligence services of the U.S., U.K. and Canada have concluded.
The group, also known as “Cozy Bear,” “The Dukes” or “APT29,” is “almost certainly part of the Russian intelligence services,” and has targeted organizations “highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines,” according to a reportfrom the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre and Canada’s Communications Security Establishment released Thursday. The National Security Agency agrees with the assessment.
The report concludes that the group is likely to continue its attacks on pharmaceutical and academic organizations conducting the vaccine research and development “as they seek to answer additional intelligence questions relating to the pandemic,” the report states.
The hacking group has been previously linked to the cyber attack on the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The British NCSC said Thursday it is 95 percent certain the group is linked to the Russian government, and at least 80 percent certain its latest activity was designed to steal information related to vaccine research.
“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement. “While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.”
The report comes amid a global race to develop a vaccine as positive cases of the disease continue to climb worldwide. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have previously accused China of engaging in similar forms of espionage targeting American vaccine development.
The efforts by Russia and China, as well as countries like Iran, are likely designed to bolster their own development of a vaccine rather than undermining similar work in Western countries, according to analysts speaking to U.S. News on the condition of anonymity. The first country to have such a monumental breakthrough would yield sizable leverage over other countries also in need of a vaccine.
Others believe the effort serves as a sign of Russian desperation as it, too, continues to struggle to contain the spread of the virus.
“That Russia hacked vaccine research is a statement of the weakness of Russian science under 20 years of Putin’s rule. He has failed his country,” says Matthew Schmidt, a professor and Russia specialist at the University of New Haven. “Russia was once a world leader in science. America is the world leader. Both countries should be models of how to respond to this crisis. Neither are.”
In a meeting Wednesday with a task force designed to counter the spread of the virus in Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that Russian researchers are testing 26 possible vaccines with some undergoing clinical trials.
“The pre-clinic and clinic research results make us confident that several effective vaccines will become available in Russia in the near future, and they will enjoy demand internationally,” Golikova said, according to a translation of a transcript of the meeting.