Russia, with knowledge reaching its President Vladimir Putin, has been accused by three western countries of a “despicable” operation to steal Britain’s coronavirus vaccine secrets in a hacking attack.
Oxford University and Imperial College London, two of the research teams trying to develop a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, are understood to have been targeted, with security sources refusing to say whether any of the attempts to steal information had been successful.
“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
Raab accused Moscow of pursuing “selfish interests with reckless behavior”.
Only hours earlier, Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, announced at a press conference in Moscow, Russia, that advanced Phase III trials would begin next month, with a plan to produce 30 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by December. Manufacturing deals had been signed with five other countries to produce a further 170 million doses, The Telegraph reported.
The UK Government’s National Cyber Security Centre said it had the “highest level of confidence” the Russian Kremlin was behind the “ongoing” hacking. The allegation was verified by the US and Canada.
The alleged hacking group is a familiar foe. Intelligence agencies in the US, UK and Canada alleged that APT29, also known as Cozy Bear and The Dukes, and blamed for election interference in the US four years ago, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical research institutions involved in COVID-19 vaccine development.
The allegation that hackers linked to a foreign government are attempting to siphon secret medical research during the pandemic is not new, AP News reported. US officials as recently as Thursday have accused China of virtually identical conduct. But the latest public warning was startling for the detail it provided, attributing the targeting by name to a particular hacking group and specifying the software vulnerabilities the hackers have been exploiting.
Russian cyberattacks strike a particular nerve in the US given the Kremlin’s sophisticated campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.