Western intelligence agencies this week accused Russia of attempting to steal COVID-19 vaccine research through systemic efforts to hack key laboratories in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Operations Directors of the National Cyber Security Centre, Paul Chichester, called the attacks “despicable”, adding that the British government is adamant to co-develop a plan to hold the perpetrators accountable.
The attacks targeting critical health reasearch are said to have been ongoing since February, before the novel coronavirus outbreak was even categorized as a pandemic.
Intelligence agencies identified hacker collective APT29 as being behind the attacks, with the NCSC stating that the group is “almost certainly” an extension of Kremlin’s spying apparatus.
Kremlin “doesn’t accept” the hacking allegations as the West plots retaliation
Attempts at compromnising ongoing vaccine research leveraged modified versions of ‘WellMail’ and ‘WellMess’ malware, in addition to spear-phishing probes, said the officials. The West fended off all such incursions to date, the authorities believe. Russian Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov denied the accusations, along with the simultaneously disclosed allegations of Kremlin-directed meddling in last year’s general election in the UK.
APT29, also known as “Cozy Bear” and “the Dukes”, are the same group implicated in meddling with the 2016 Presidential election in the United States. The DOJ believes they’re the ones behind the same-year hack of the DNC which resulted in hundreds of classified emails being leaked. APT29 was identified as a branch of Russian intelligence following a two-year investigation led by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller which ended in 37 indictments encompassing 199 criminal charges filed against 34 individuals: 26 Russians, seven Americans, and one Dutch national.