European governments and officials in the United States on Thursday accused a group of computer hackers who they believe work for Russian intelligence of attempting to steal information about a potential coronavirus vaccine.
The group believed to be behind the attempt is known as APT29, also known as “Cozy Bear” to the intelligence agencies of the UK, the US and Canada, which have blamed the group for hacking attempts in the past. It was also accused of high-level election interference in the presidential elections of 2016.
Now Cozy Bear stands accused of hacking the systems belonging to institutions involved in academic and pharmaceutical research related to the coronavirus. The new accusations, lodged by the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, comprise an unusually blunt charge against the Kremlin.
According to reports from the Associated Press, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused Russia of engaging in “reckless behavior,” adding, “it is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus epidemic.”
White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said, regarding coronavirus research, that “We worked very closely with our allies to ensure that we would take measures to keep that information safe and we continue to do so,” according to the AP.
US officials have repeatedly warned that foreign entities might try to steal information regarding coronavirus research, but this latest charge carried particular weight due to the huge amount of detail it gave on the accused hackers, even naming the type of software weaknesses that have been used by the hacking group to access the information.
The AP quotes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying “We don’t have information about who may have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research in Britain. We may say one thing: Russia has nothing to do with those attempts.”
At this point it is not believed that any individual’s personal information has been compromised as part of the attacks; rather, the hackings were meant as a way to mine the intellectual property involved in virus research.