WASHINGTON -- Chinese-backed hackers are attempting to steal research and intellectual property related to treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, US authorities Wednesday (May 13) warned healthcare and scientific researchers.
A statement from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned organisations researching the disease of "likely targeting and network compromise by the People's Republic of China".
"These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research," the statement said.
"China's efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation's response to COVID-19," it added.
The FBI and CISA urged "all organisations conducting research in these areas to maintain dedicated cybersecurity and insider threat practices to prevent surreptitious review or theft of COVID-19-related material."
"China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to such smearing," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian Thursday (May 14) said in response to the allegation.
The warning comes as dozens of companies, institutes and countries around the world are racing to develop vaccines to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed at least 292,000 worldwide and originated in China.
The warning adds to a series of alerts and reports accusing government-backed hackers in Iran, North Korea, Russia and China of malicious activity related to the coronavirus pandemic, from pumping out false news to targeting workers and scientists.
Last week, Britain and the United States warned of a rise in cyber-attacks against health professionals by organised criminals "often linked with other state actors."
CISA and Britain's National Cyber Security Centre said they had detected large-scale "password spraying" tactics -- hackers trying to access accounts through commonly used passwords -- aimed at healthcare bodies and medical research organisations.
Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russian regimes in particular have stepped up co-operation to spread false narratives over the coronavirus pandemic.
"Even before the COVID-19 crisis, we assessed a certain level of co-ordination between Russia and the People's Republic of China in the realm of propaganda," said Lea Gabrielle, co-ordinator of the US State Department's Global Engagement Centre, which tracks foreign propaganda.
"But with this pandemic the co-operation has accelerated rapidly," she told reporters May 8, according to AFP.
The Chinese regime has intensified its online campaign to defend its handling of the pandemic and to criticise the United States, according to the centre.
"Beijing is adapting in real time and increasingly using techniques that have long been employed by Moscow," Gabrielle said.
Earlier this month a report from various intelligence agencies said China went so far as to cover up news of the virus by silencing or "disappearing" doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence of COVID-19 in laboratories and refusing to provide samples to scientists working on a vaccine.