US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of hacking Covid-19 vaccine research

Edited By: Nikhil Pandey WION Web Team
NEW DELHI Published: Jul 17, 2020, 05:50 AM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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All three countries have attributed the attack to a group named APT29, also known as Cozy Bear.

UK, United States and Canada accused Russia on Thursday of trying to steal research-based information from experts and scientist seeking a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Government-backed Russian hacking group was blamed for this ongoing cyber-espionage against organizations involved in the development of coronavirus vaccines and other health-care-related work, reflecting an escalation of security risks at a crucial time in the global response to the pandemic.

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All three countries have attributed the attack to a group named APT29, also known as Cozy Bear.

Britain’s National Cybersecurity Centre made the announcement, which was coordinated with authorities in the US and Canada.

The countries have said that this cyber-attack was almost certainly operating as part of Russian intelligence services.

"We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic," said Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) Director of Operations Paul Chichester.

Cybersecurity researchers said an APT29 hacking tool was used against clients located in the United States, Japan, China and Africa over the last year.

Russian news agency RIA cited spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the Kremlin rejected London`s allegations, which he said were not backed by proper evidence.

It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement. 

“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.”

In a separate announcement, Britain also accused "Russian actors" of trying to interfere in its 2019 election by trying to spread leaked documents online. Russia`s foreign ministry said those accusations were "foggy and contradictory".

Britain is expected to publish a long-delayed report into Russian influence in British politics next week. 

Private-sector cybersecurity researchers who had spotted the WELLMESS malware over the last year were unaware of its Russian origins until Thursday.

In several cases, WELLMESS was found within U.S. pharmaceutical companies, said three investigators familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information. The tool allowed hackers to stealthily gain remote access to secure computers. They declined to name the victims.

Britain and the United States said in May that networks of hackers were targeting national and international organisations responding to the pandemic. But such attacks have not previously been explicitly connected to the Russian state. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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