“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
Officials did not divulge whether any of the Russian efforts have been successful, but, they said, the intention is clear.
“APT29 has a long history of targeting governmental, diplomatic, think tank, health-care and energy organizations for intelligence gain, so we encourage everyone to take this threat seriously and apply the mitigations issued in the advisory,” said Anne Neuberger, cybersecurity director for the U.S. National Security Agency.
Moscow has denied the allegations.
“We have no information on who could have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centers in Britain,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Tass state news agency. “We can only say this: Russia has nothing to do with these attempts.”
U.S. officials say a desire for global prestige and influence also is driving nations’ actions.
“Whatever country’s or company’s research lab is first to produce that [vaccine] is going to have a significant geopolitical success story,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said earlier this year.
Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, responsible for gathering foreign signals intelligence and the Canadian equivalent of the NSA, said the attacks “serve to hinder response efforts at a time when health-care experts and medical researchers need every available resource to help fight the pandemic.”
A CSE bulletin said that a Canadian biopharmaceutical company was breached by a foreign actor in mid-April, “almost certainly attempting to steal its intellectual property.”
The agency also said in May that it was investigating possible security breaches at Canadian organizations working on coronavirus-related research, but did not indicate whether the alleged breaches were state-sponsored.
“We’ve seen some compromises in research organizations that we’ve been helping to mitigate,” Scott Jones, head of the CSE’s Cyber Center, told a parliamentary committee. “We’re still continuing to look through what’s the root cause of those.”
“It’s not unusual” to see “cyber activity” traced to China soon after a pharmaceutical company or research institution makes an announcement about promising vaccine research, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said last week. “It’s sometimes almost the next day.”
Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday that Beijing, “desperate for a public relations coup,” is perhaps hoping “to claim credit for any medical breakthroughs.”