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US says Chinese hackers likely targeting virus researchers

Last Updated May 13, 2020 at 11:17 am PDT

FILE - In this March 22, 2019 file photo, an American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington. The Department of Justice says in a statement that hackers have been attempting to obtain intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber division warned on Wednesday that hackers backed by the Chinese government may be attempting to steal the work of researchers dealing with the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Both the FBI and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said that health care and pharmaceutical researchers need to be alert to potential attacks and should take measures to protect their data.

Neither organization released names of any specific institutions that had been targeted. The Department of Justice said institutions that have received media attention for their efforts related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, should assume that they would be targeted and should take precautions.

“The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.

It comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries over the source of the outbreak and Trump administration complaints that China did not adequately alert the world to the danger posed by the new coronavirus. China has urged the U.S. to “stop unwarranted accusations.”

U.S. authorities have also long said that Chinese government hackers have stolen economic and academic data.