UK says Russian hackers trying to steal virus vaccine research

By: AFP      Published: 08:38 PM, 16 Jul, 2020
UK says Russian hackers trying to steal virus vaccine research

Britain's cyber-security agency on Thursday accused a hacking group it said "almost certainly" operates as part of Russian intelligence services of trying to steal research into potential coronavirus vaccines.

The National Cyber Security Centre said the attacks by the group APT29 were ongoing but targets have so far included UK, US and Canadian vaccine research and development organisations.   "The NCSC assesses that APT29, also named the Dukes or Cozy Bear, almost certainly operate as part of Russian Intelligence Services," it said, adding that the United States and Canada shared this view.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed outrage at the findings, which were published alongside an advisory on how organisations can help protect themselves from cyber attacks.

"It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic," he said. "While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health. The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account."

The NCSC said that government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy groups were mainly being targeted, in a bid "to steal valuable intellectual property".

Kremlin denies UK claims

The Kremlin on Thursday denied claims by Britain that "Russian actors" sought to meddle in last year's general election and that Russian intelligence services most likely hacked coronavirus vaccine research.

"We have no information on who could have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centres in Britain," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency. "We can only say this: Russia has nothing to do with these attempts. We do not accept such accusations."

The same applied to "the latest groundless allegations of interference in 2019 elections", he said.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier mocked the British claim, saying it was "so hazy and contradictory that it's practically impossible to understand".

"On the one hand, there's no evidence. On the other hand they are talking about some retaliatory measures. These things are mutually exclusive," she said.