US accuses China of hacking COVID-19 researchers

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The US government is accusing Chinese hackers of targeting organisations researching on the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a public service announcement today warning organisations researching COVID-19 of likely targeting and network compromise by the People’s Republic of China.

In a statement, the FBI says healthcare, pharmaceutical and research sectors working on COVID-19 response should all be aware they are the prime targets of this activity and take the necessary steps to protect their systems.

“China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19,” says the FBI in a statement.

“This announcement is intended to raise awareness for research institutions and the American public and provide resources and guidance for those who may be targeted.”

The FBI requests organisations that suspect suspicious activity contact their local FBI field office, the bureau says.

CISA is asking for all organisations supporting the COVID-19 response to partner with the agency in order to help protect these critical response efforts.

“Additional technical details regarding the threat will be released in the coming days. CISA and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Agency released a similar alert earlier this month warning of malicious actors targeting COVID-19 response organisations using a tactic of password spraying.”

Reuters reports that coronavirus-related research and data have emerged as a key intelligence priority for hackers of all stripes.

Last week, it reported that Iran-linked cyber spies had targeted staff at US drug-maker Gilead Sciences, whose anti-viral drug remdesivir is the only treatment so far proven to help COVID-19 patients.

In March and April, Reuters reported on advanced hackers’ attempts to break into the World Health Organisation as the pandemic spread across the globe.

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