LONDON—U. S. and U.K. government officials said a prominent state-backed Russian hacking group is responsible for ongoing cyberattacks against organizations involved in the development of coronavirus vaccines and other healthcare-related work, a sign of escalating security concerns amid the global response to Covid-19.
The National Cyber Security Centre, part of the U.K.'s GCHQ electronic-intelligence agency, said Thursday it worked with U.S. and Canadian security officials to assess the source of persistent hacking activity against government, think tank and other targets in multiple countries. The targets include universities, private companies and other organizations working on vaccine research and testing globally, officials said.
The attacks are designed to steal intellectual property amid the response to Covid-19, the officials said.
The officials jointly identified the hacking group as Russia-supported APT 29, which is also known as Cozy Bear. APT29 is widely viewed by cybersecurity experts to be a sophisticated and prolific cyber unit associated with Russian intelligence and has previously been linked to attacks on the White House, the U.S. State Department and various governments throughout Europe.
Thursday's warning about the attacks, designed to help current and potential targets bolster their defenses, follows the already stepped-up protections of institutions involved in virus research, including vaccine development. The U.K. earlier this year identified the University of Oxford as among about a dozen U.K. universities receiving heightened government cyberprotection, as the university was gaining attention for its role in the battle against the virus, The Wall Street Journal earlier reported.
Oxford is working with U.K.drugmakerAstraZeneca PLC on a leading vaccine candidate that they say could be ready by this autumn. An AstraZeneca spokesman had no immediate comment about the hacking warnings, while an Oxford spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic," Paul Chichester, the U.K. cyber center's director of operations, said in a statement.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from either the Kremlin or Russia's Federal Security Service, nor from the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, which deals with cybersecurity.
WSJ, July 16, 2020
July 16, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. What do you think #PutinPuppet Trump will say about #RussianCovidVaccineHacking? Radio silent about this like #RussianBounties? Or denial as about #RussianElectionInterference? #TrumpTreason