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Western Countries Claim Russia Is Stealing Their Vaccine Research

Leyuan Zhou

This past Thursday, the American, British, and Canadian governments accused Russian hackers of stealing important information garnered from their coronavirus vaccine research. This happened amid the global race to develop an immunization that would contain the pandemic.

The National Security Agency said that a hacking group involved in the compromisation of Democratic Party servers during the 2016 election has been trying to steal information regarding vaccine development from various universities, companies, and health care organizations. The group, known as APT29 and Cozy Bear, is involved with Russian intelligence and has utilized the turmoil created by the coronavirus pandemic to hack into the softwares of organizations researching potential vaccines, officials said.

Cozy Bear, a hacking group regarded as one of the highest-profile and most successful in Russia, targetted British, Canadian, and American organizations by using malware and sending falsified emails to attempt to procure passwords and other security credentials.

Ciaran Martin, the head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Center, told NBC news that the cyberattacks were detected in February but there was no evidence of any data being stolen.

Some experts are also concerned about the interference of other countries that may be seeking a geopolitical upper hand in being the first to create a vaccine. This includes the Chinese government, whose hackers have long tried to steal trademarks and technologies from its rivals.

“Russia is not alone,” said John Hultquist, the senior director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a cybersecurity firm in Silicon Valley. “A lot of people are in this game even if they haven’t been called out yet. The whole pandemic is absolutely riddled with spies.”

Although government officials would not identify any of the institutions that have been hacked, the main targets of the attack seemed to be Oxford University in Britain and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The two groups are working together to develop a vaccine.

There are more than 155 vaccines currently under development, including 23 being tested on humans. Different types of vaccines include whole virus vaccines, genetic vaccines, viral-vector vaccines, and protein-based vaccines. Oxford and AstraZeneca’s research is based on altering a chimpanzee adenovirus, another common pathogen, to mimic the coronavirus and prompt a safe immune response.

American intelligence officials said the Russians were not attempting to deliberately destroy the research done by the organizations. Instead, they seeked to expedite their own path to a coronavirus vaccine.


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