FBI Accuses China-linked Hackers Of Attacking Coronavirus Researchers

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coronavirus Image credit: World Health Organisation

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security say China-linked hackers are attacking US firms carrying out Covid-19 research

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security have issued a warning about ‘China-linked hackers.’

In a joint statement on Wednesday, they said that China-linked hackers are breaking into American organisations carrying out research into Covid-19, Reuters reported.

They have also warned both scientists and public health officials to be on the lookout for cyber theft.

America US China - Shutterstock © Aquir

Chinese hackers?

The FBI is reportedly investigating digital break-ins at US organisations by China-linked “cyber actors” that it had monitored “attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with Covid-19-related research.”

Reuters said that the statement offered no further details on the identities of the targets or the hackers.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington meanwhile did not respond to a request for comment.

It comes after Reuters last week reported that Iran-linked cyberspies had targeted staff at US drugmaker Gilead Sciences, whose antiviral drug remdesivir is the only treatment so far proven to help Covid-19 patients.

The FBI and DoHS warning mirrors a warning from both British and US cyber officials last week.

Previous warning

That warning came in a joint advisory published by both UK and US cyber officials, namely the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

They warned those who are carrying out research into Coronavirus and Covid-19, to bolster their cyber defences.

The UK is widely regarded as having the best chance of producing a viable working vaccine for Covid-19, thanks to the efforts researchers and scientists at both the Jenner Institute in Oxford (which started its promising trial last month) and another team at Imperial College London.

This research being produced by UK scientists is hugely important and potentially valuable. This has promised the warning from UK and US authorities.

“Security agencies in the United Kingdom and United States have exposed malicious cyber campaigns targeting organisations involved in the coronavirus response – and given tips to stay safe,” said both nations previously.

An advisory for international healthcare and medical research organisations was also published, advising staff to change any passwords that could be reasonably guessed to one created with three random words and implement two-factor authentication to reduce the threat of compromises.

Last month both the NCSC (a part of GCHQ) and the US CISA warned that state-backed hackers and online criminals are exploiting the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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