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Canada, allies accuse Russian hackers of trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine data

Last Updated Jul 16, 2020 at 8:29 am PST

Summary

Russian hackers are being accused by Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. of trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine research

Intelligence agencies say hackers' efforts serve to hinder COVID-19 response efforts at a dire time

Hackers who “almost certainly” are working for Russian intelligence groups are behind cyber attacks on COVID-19 vaccine developments, according to Canada, British, and U.S. security services.

The countries are accusing a “threat group” known as APT29 — which is also named “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear” — of trying to steal research on COVID-19 vaccines from organizations in all three countries and around the world.

This state-sponsored hacking was apparently meant to steal information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines, and serve to hinder response efforts at a time when healthcare experts and medical researchers need every available resource to help fight the pandemic, according to Canada’s Communications Security Establishment.

The National Cyber Security Centre has already issued warnings “that APT groups have been targeting organisations involved in both national and international COVID-19 responses.”

“We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” Paul Chichester, director of operations, NCSC, says.

According to a joint advisory issued by Canada, the U.K., and the U.S., “Russian actors” have used a number of techniques throughout 2020. That includes the use of “custom malware known as ‘WellMess’ and ‘WellMail.'”

Organizations involved in the COVID-19 response are being urged to review the NCSC’s technical advisory and take appropriate measures to protect themselves against cyber threats.

Federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says “It’s important to defend health care organizations,” as well as Canada, the U.K., and the USA’s national interests.

“Let’s call out bad behaviour, reinforce a shared & common understanding of rules-based norms & deter malicious foreign cyber actors from targeting our country,” Sajjan writes on Twitter.

These hackers are apparently the same ones who tried to hack the Democratic party in the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reports suggest.

Read the technical advisory: 

Advisory-APT29-targets-COVID-19-vaccine-development

-With files from The Canadian Press