UK 'absolutely confident' Russian intelligence behind COVID-19 vaccine hack

Caravanserai and AFP


A scientist is pictured working at the Oxford Vaccine Group's laboratory facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, June 24. [Steve Parsons/POOL/AFP]

LONDON -- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sunday (July 19) he was "absolutely confident" in allegations by the United Kingdom and its allies that Russian spies targeted labs conducting coronavirus research, branding the behaviour "outrageous and reprehensible".

Britain, the United States and Canada on July 16 accused a hacking group called APT29 of spearheading the online attacks on various organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine development.

The collective was linked to Russian intelligence and intended to steal information and intellectual property, they said.

Moscow quickly rejected the accusations as "groundless", and its ambassador to London said in a British television interview July 19 the claims made "no sense".

However, Raab reiterated that the trio's conclusions were based on assessments by Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and its counterparts in the United States and Canada.

"We're absolutely confident that the Russian intelligence agencies were engaged in a cyber-attack on research and development efforts in organisations in this country and internationally with a view either to sabotage or to profit," he told Sky News.

"At the time that the world has come together to try and tackle COVID-19... I think it's outrageous and reprehensible that the Russian government is engaged in this activity," he added.

Cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns

The latest evidence adds to a series of reports accusing government-backed hackers in Iran, North Korea, Russia and China of malicious activity related to the coronavirus pandemic, from pumping out false news to targeting workers and scientists.

Chinese-backed hackers are attempting to steal research and intellectual property related to treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned on May 13.

That month, Britain and the United States warned of a rise in cyber-attacks against health professionals by organised criminals "often linked with other state actors".

CISA and the NCSC said they had detected large-scale "password spraying" tactics -- hackers trying to access accounts through commonly used passwords -- aimed at healthcare bodies and medical research organisations.

Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russian regimes in particular have stepped up co-operation to spread false narratives over the coronavirus pandemic.

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They can't do it themselves, so they need to steal from the West. Russia has always done it like this.


Stealing things is a primordial Russian habit