LONDON -- Russian hackers are targeting organisations involved in coronavirus vaccine development, UK security officials revealed Thursday (July 16).
Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said the attacks by the group APT29 were ongoing but targets have so far included UK, US and Canadian vaccine research and development organisations.
"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 US and Canadian security agencies shared this view.
"APT29’s campaign of malicious activity is ongoing, predominantly against government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets to steal valuable intellectual property," the NCSC said.
"We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic," said NCSC Director of Operations Paul Chichester.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed outrage at the findings, which were published alongside an advisory on how organisations can help protect themselves from cyber attacks.
"It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic," he said.
Cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns
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.
Chinese-backed hackers are attempting to steal research and intellectual property related to treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned May 13.
That month, Britain and the United States also warned of a rise in cyber-attacks against health professionals by organised criminals "often linked with other state actors."
CISA and the NCSC 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.