UK says Russian intelligence trying to steal virus vaccine research

UK says Russian intelligence trying to steal virus vaccine research

Scientists in Britain, US, Canada said targeted as London vows ‘to hold perpetrators to account’

Illustrative. Working on a coronavirus vaccine. (iStock)
Illustrative. Working on a coronavirus vaccine. (iStock)

LONDON, United Kingdom — Britain’s cybersecurity agency on Thursday accused a hacking group it said “almost certainly” operates as part of Russian intelligence services of trying to steal research into potential coronavirus vaccines. Russia denied the claim.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said the attacks by the group APT29 were ongoing but targets have so far included UK, US and Canadian vaccine research and development organizations.

“The NCSC assesses that APT29, also named the Dukes or Cozy Bear, almost certainly operate as part of Russian Intelligence Services,” it said, adding that the United States and Canada shared this view.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed outrage at the findings, which were published alongside an advisory on how organizations can help protect themselves from cyber attacks.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives for a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 10 Downing Street in London, January 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

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

“The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account.”

The NCSC said that government, diplomatic, think tank, healthcare and energy groups were mainly being targeted, in a bid “to steal valuable intellectual property.”

The Kremlin denied the claims.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov in Moscow, Russia, April 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

“We have no information on who could have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centers in Britain,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency.

“We can only say this: Russia has nothing to do with these attempts. We do not accept such accusations.”

The same applied to “the latest groundless allegations of interference in 2019 elections,” he said.

The British government accused “Russian actors” on Thursday of seeking to disrupt last year’s general election in the UK by circulating leaked trade documents between London and Washington.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier mocked the British claim, saying it was “so hazy and contradictory that it’s practically impossible to understand.”

“On the one hand, there’s no evidence. On the other hand they are talking about some retaliatory measures. These things are mutually exclusive,” she said.

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