The coronavirus vaccine race has sparked an intelligence war where spies from China, Russia and Iran target U.S. biotech companies and research universities in an attempt to steal data, according to a new report.
US and UK intelligence services have been following the efforts of several countries trying to spy on vaccine research, with COVID-19 having infected more than 26 million people around the world.
Chinese hackers have attempted to steal information from the University of North Carolina and other schools focusing on COVID-19 research because their data protections are less robust than pharmaceutical companies, according to the New York Times.
Russian spies have attempted to obtain vaccine data from US universities and agencies in Canada and Britain, according to espionage efforts detected by UK electronic surveillance agency GCHQ monitoring cables at international optical fibers.
Iran has also dramatically stepped up actions to steal vaccine research, and increased threats have forced the United States to step up its spy tracking efforts.
The coronavirus vaccine race has sparked an intelligence war where spies from China, Russia and Iran target US biotech companies and research universities in an attempt to steal data, new report says
Some of the targeted US biotech companies include Gilead Sciences, Novavax, and Moderna.
So far, no company or university has reported data theft as a result of publicly identified hacking efforts, officials said.
But some hacking attempts have managed to penetrate defenses into computer networks, according to a US government official.
Only two hacker teams, one each from Russia and China, have been publicly identified.
Intelligence officials say Chinese and Russian hackers test their weaknesses every day.
Now the United States is stepping up protection for universities and companies doing cutting-edge vaccine work, and NATO, which typically tracks Russian tank movements and terrorist cells, is reviewing the Kremlin’s measures to steal research on vaccines, a Western official briefed on the intelligence said.
“It would be surprising if they did not try to steal the most valuable biomedical research currently underway,” a senior Justice Department official John C. Demers said of China last month. at an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A lab technician sorts blood samples for a COVID-19 vaccination study at America’s research centers in Hollywood, Florida on August 13
“Precious from a financial point of view and invaluable from a geopolitical point of view,” he added.
The race for the vaccine against the virus that has infected more than 6 million and killed more than 188,000 in the United States alone is not so different from the space race where the Soviet Union and the United States depended on. spies to catch up moon.
U.S. intelligence learned of China’s hacking efforts in early February, according to current and former U.S. officials.
China was tracked using information from the World Health Organization to guide vaccine spying attempts in the United States and Europe and attempted to hack the University of North Carolina and other universities .
The FBI has warned UNC officials in recent weeks about hacking attempts, two people familiar with the matter said.
Chinese hackers tried to break into the computer networks of the school’s epidemiology department but did not infiltrate them.
The efforts are only intensifying as researchers share more vaccine candidates and antiviral treatments for peer review, a government official said.
UNC spokeswoman Leslie Minton said the school had been invested in “round the clock surveillance” to guard against “persistent threats from state-sponsored organizations.”
In response to hacking efforts, the United States has tightened the security of research universities and vaccine research agencies. In the United States, more than 6 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 188,000 have died
China has carried out “multiple intrusions” more than what the Justice Ministry revealed in a July indictment, which accused two hackers of working for the Chinese Ministry of Security’s spy service of State for vaccine information and research from U.S. biotechnology companies.
Some experts warn that Chinese intelligence services in the United States and elsewhere have attempted to collect information from the researchers themselves and may try to take advantage of research partnerships between U.S. universities and Chinese institutions.
On July 22, the Trump administration ordered China to shut down its consulate in Houston after Chinese agents used it as an outpost to target the city’s medical experts.
UK electronic surveillance agency GCHQ uncovered the Russian hacking effort as US intelligence learned about Chinese espionage efforts.
In July, UK, US and Canadian intelligence agencies said the Russian group known as Cozy Bear was focusing on collecting research from the University of Oxford and its pharmaceutical partner AstraZeneca.
It’s a collection of hackers affiliated with SVR Cozy Bear – one of the groups that broke into Democratic computer servers in 2016.
“It’s really a race against time for the right guys to find the vulnerabilities and fix them, deploy those fixes before the adversary finds them and exploits them. The race is tighter than anything, ”said Bryan S Ware, deputy director of cybersecurity for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
On August 11, Russia announced it was approving a vaccine – but their early success raised suspicions that its scientists had been aided by espionage work and stolen research.
US officials say the country’s spy services are defensive and intelligence agencies have not been ordered to steal coronavirus research.
Hacking is dangerous for US research because by extracting data it could damage research systems and disrupt networks.
Some officials have expressed concern that Russia and China are trying to sow distrust of a real vaccine from Western countries as both countries have already spread disinformation about the virus. , its origin and the response from the United States.
Some experts say the hacking comes as no surprise with Russian history.
“This case appears to be a throwback to the former Soviet Union. Russia and the Chinese have participated in disinformation campaigns. How do you create confusion and weaken the United States more than stimulating the anti-ax movement? But you make sure all your guys get vaccinated, ”Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official and expert on Russia who testified at impeachment hearings against President Trump, told The Times.