Russian Hackers Going After Virus Vaccine Research, Officials Say

A patient receives a shot in the first-stage clinical trial of a potential vaccine for Covid-19 at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle on March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(CN) — A suspected Russian hacking group known by several names — Cozy Bear, The Dukes and APT29 — is behind attempts to steal Western Covid-19 vaccine research, according to Canadian, U.K. and U.S. intelligence agencies.

The report released Thursday by the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre and Canada’s Communications Security Establishment has also been backed by the U.S. National Security Agency. It says cyberattacks carried out this year have been targeting various agencies involved in vaccine development — an alleged effort to bolster Russia’s own vaccine advancement.

“APT29 is using custom malware known as ‘WellMess’ and ‘WellMail’ to target a number of organizations globally. This includes those organizations involved with Covid-19 vaccine development,” the report states, referring to software that can upload and download computer files and run commands.

The intelligence agencies say the hacking group is likely to continue targeting organizations involved in Covid-19 research.

Threat Connect, a cybersecurity firm partnered with CrowdStrike, identified the same group as a Russian intelligence-affiliated organization that breached the Democratic National Committee network before the 2016 election. According to Threat Connect, hackers had been infiltrating the DNC since summer 2015.  

Paul Chichester, director of operations at the National Cyber Security Centre, condemned the vaccine-related attacks in a statement Thursday, saying the British agency is “committed to protecting our most critical assets” and its top priority is protecting the health sector.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added it was “completely unacceptable” for Russian intelligence to target those working to combat the pandemic.

“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health,” Raab said in a statement Thursday.

Thursday’s report comes alongside news that researchers at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute are months ahead of schedule on work to complete a Covid-19 vaccine, with a drug candidate entering its final stages of human trials in the U.K. American trials of that vaccine with 30,000 people are expected by August.

Restricting public access to Covid-19 data, the Trump administration said Tuesday hospitals around the country should sent coronavirus-related information directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, bypassing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An HHS guidance report notes July 15 was the deadline for hospitals to cease sending data to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network — the nation’s most utilized infection tracking system. HHS said the shift is an effort to streamline data collection.

The CDC tracked available hospital beds, ventilators and patients each facility maintains. As of Thursday, its network only displays data as recent as July 14, referring visitors to the HHS guidance report.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Thursday said the change in data reporting was an attempt by the President Donald Trump to cover up shortcomings in the national pandemic response.

The CDC’s inability to distribute their findings will harm the effort to end the crisis, he said.

“Because when you don’t know the truth, and you don’t go after the truth, inevitably, you lose out,” Schumer said. “And I don’t know why the White House is saying they want to hide the numbers, but it makes no sense in terms of fighting this crisis. If you listen to people like Dr. Fauci and listen to the scientific experts, we would have been a lot better off than trying to sweep it under the rug, which is what the president and others try to do.”

%d bloggers like this: