State-sponsored hackers from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are engaged in concerted attempts to steal coronavirus vaccine secrets in what security experts describe as intellectual property war.
They accuse hostile-state hackers of trying to obtain trial results early and seize sensitive information about drug mass production, at a time when a range of vaccines are close to being approved for the public.
Previously the hacker’s primary intention was to steal the secrets behind the design of a vaccine, with hundreds of drug companies, research labs, and health organizations from around the world targeted at any one time.
The cyber struggle involves western intelligence agencies, including Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, who say they are committed to protecting, our most critical assets. But they discuss only a fraction of their work in public.
Instead, they work behind the scenes with drug companies, research labs, and cybersecurity specialists, who are more easily able to describe the everyday hacking attempts in what amounts to a worldwide battle.
Adam Meyers, the senior vice-president, intelligence at the IT security specialists Crowdstrike, said countries including Russia and China had been engaged in hacking western companies and agencies “for the past 20 years”, but since March had “become focused on one topic”, referring to Covid-19.
“What you are seeing here is the latest stage in a long-running intellectual property war, but one where there is much more at stake to those involved. This has become a matter of national pride – who can develop vaccines first”.
Yet, western governments remain reluctant to point the finger of blame in all cases of hacker attack for fear of diplomatic repercussions, with the UK, for example, particularly cautious about accusing China.
Experts in the private and public sector argue otherwise, saying that state-sponsored hacker groups typically have links to spy or defense agencies. Earlier this year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said Covid vaccine research labs were being targeted in the UK, US, and Canada by Cozy Bear Russian state hackers linked to the ‘FSB’ internal security agency.