Russian hackers targeting vaccine trials, say UK, US, Canada



The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre on Thursday announced along with its counterparts in the United States and Canada that hackers based in Russia have been targetting research teams and organisations involved in developing a vaccine for coronavirus.

The coordinated charge by the three countries identifies a group called APT29 (also known as ‘the Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’) and concludes that the cyber group is “almost certainly part of the Russian intelligence services”.

The UK centre released a report, revealing IP addresses and other details, adding that similar conclusion has also been reached by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).

Two major vaccine trials are underway at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London.

The Foreign Office called for an end to what it called “irresponsible cyber attacks by the Russian intelligence services, who have been collecting information on vaccine development and research into the Covid-19 virus”.

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,” he added.

The UK cyber security centre said the Russian group uses a variety of tools and techniques to predominantly target governmental, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets for intelligence gain.

“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”, it said.

In a separate statement, Raab alleged that Russian actors “sought to interfere” in the December 2019 UK general election. It is the first time a minister has claimed that Russia tried to interfere with the workings of British democracy.

“On the basis of extensive analysis, the government has concluded 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 said in a written statement to parliament.

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