Several major international institutions involved in global research for a COVID-19 vaccine have been hit by a series of cyber attacks, according to global security agencies. The agencies did not specify which institutions have been targeted, but the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have been involved in high profile trials in the UK. It is not yet known if any data was stolen, and it is understood that the attacks have not hindered the research.
The UK's National Cyber Security Centre, Canada's Communication Security Establishment, and the US Department for Homeland Security and Cyber-security Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint warning earlier today, blaming the Russian government for the attacks.
The actors responsible are known and tracked in open source as APT29, Cozy Bear and The Dukes. The National Cyber Security Centre said that they are almost certain (95%+) that APT29 are part of the Russian Intelligence Services. APT29 has targeted medical research and development organisations. NCSC assess it is highly likely (80 – 90%) that this activity was to collect information on COVID-19 vaccine research or research into the COVID-19 virus itself.
The 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.
The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account.
Responding to these claims Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Putin, told the Tass news agency:
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We do not have information about who may have hacked into pharmaceutical companies and research centres in Great Britain. We can say one thing - Russia has nothing at all to do with these attempts