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'Appalling': Russia Accused of COVID-19 Hacking, Could It Disrupt US Race for a Vaccine?

Hack Attack

The US, United Kingdom, and Canada are accusing computer hackers, believed to be part of Russian intelligence, of trying to steal valuable private information about a possible vaccine for the coronavirus.

In a joint communication, those governments allege that a hacking group known as Cozy Bear is attacking academic and pharmaceutical companies involved in developing potential vaccines for the pandemic.

"I think that's pretty appalling to have the Russian government engaged in that endeavor, I think needs calling out," said Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

According to a 16-page document released by Britain's national cybersecurity center, the Russians are targeting several global organizations with hacking programs called WellMess and WellMail.

"One of the things that the report stated was that a lot of this information came from phishing attacks," said Matthew Schmidt, professor at the University of New Haven. "It is sending emails and getting people to send personal information that then hackers could use to get in. And so, as ever, with these things, the weak link in the security isn't so much the computers, it's the people."

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The hacking group Cozy Bear is familiar to US intelligence. Washington identified them as one of two Russian government-linked groups that broke into the DNC's computer network, stealing emails and other documents ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

"The biggest takeaway from these attacks, is that other countries are actively targeting the health research industry, and we're seeing the pharmaceutical companies and others being targeted because they have the information that can be used to help alleviate this global pandemic," said Mike Chapple, an information technology professor at University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

In April, the US Department of Homeland Security warned that various cybercriminal groups around the world, including in Russia and China, were targeting COVID-19 research.

"Russia not only can derive benefit economically by speeding up their own development of a vaccine, but they could also disrupt our efforts to develop a vaccine," security analyst John Cohen warned.

On Thursday, the White House said the US, UK, and Canada are working to stop Russia's nefarious actions.

"We worked very closely with our allies to ensure that we would take measures to keep that information safe. And we continue to do so. We're aware of those activities," said White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

The report doesn't specify whether Russia's President Vladimir Putin knew about the hacking job. The Kremlin has rejected the allegations.

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