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U.K., U.S. and Canada report Russian cyberspies may be trying to steal vaccine research

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/16/2020 William Booth, Adam Taylor

LONDON —Security officials in the United States, Britain and Canada announced Thursday that hackers linked to Russia were actively trying to steal information from researchers working to produce coronavirus vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

Paul Chichester, director of operations at Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, said the hackers had undertaken “despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.”

“We would urge organizations to familiarize themselves with the advice we have published to help defend their networks,” Chichester said in a statement.

In an advisory published Thursday, the NCSC said that a group named APT29 and also known by the names “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear,” had targeted British, American and Canadian vaccine research and development organizations.

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The British government said it was 95 percent certain that APT29 were part of the Russian intelligence service.

It was highly likely that the group was trying to collect information on vaccine development or research on the virus itself, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

The Russian spying is ongoing, with British, American and Canadian cyber experts working to defend laboratories and research data, according to the Government Communications Headquarters, commonly known as GCHQ, Britain’s intelligence and security branch.

The charge that Russian hackers were searching for vaccine data came as Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab told a Parliament intelligence committee Thursday that “Russian actors” sought to interfere in the U.K.’s 2019 general election by acquiring unpublished documents used in trade talks between the United States and Britain, and then leaking the material via social media.

“Sensitive government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 General Election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit,” Raab said in a written statement to Parliament.

The foreign minister added, “It is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.”

Raab called the alleged meddling “completely unacceptable.”

After the trade documents emerged online, they were used during the December 2019 election by the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party of preparing to “sell off” precious access to the National Health Service to U.S. companies.

The charges were hot-button at the time, but did not change the outcome: Johnson won the election in a landslide.

Raab’s charge of Russian meddling in 2019 come as a much-delayed report into allegations of wider Russian interference into U.K. democracy is due next week.

a close up of a device: (iStock) © iStock/iStock (iStock)
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