Russian hackers attempt to penetrate COVID-19 research centers

by Maruf Adedeji
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UK, US and Canadian security officials have alerted the world to illegal activities of a Russian hacking group known as APT29, making attempts to penetrate COVID-19 research centres.

A new UK-based report, which emerged on Thursday July 16, 2020, detailed the activities of the Russian hacking group and its moves to hack into some UK, US and Canadian research and development organisations dealing in coronavirus vaccine.

The official advisory said Russian APT29, also known as ‘the Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’, specialises in malicious activities including anti-government campaign, diplomatic reasons, think tank, healthcare and energy with a target to gain access into intellectual property.

This is the first time the hacking group, the Duke linked to Russian intelligence, has been identified as a cyber actor in hacking attacks targeting coronavirus vaccine centres.

According to the state-run news agency TASS, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on Thursday that Russia had nothing to do with the hacking attacks targeting coronavirus vaccine centres.

“Russia has nothing to do with these attempts, and we do not accept such accusations just like we don’t accept yet another set of unfounded accusations of interference in the 2019 elections,” Mr Peskov said.

This latest development is coming as the US coronavirus cases continue to rise, and efforts are being intensified by researchers to come up with a vaccine.

Meanwhile, officials said the hacking group had earlier targeted centres, which included hospitals, research laboratories, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies.

An official report said Russia and China have also been accused of being the primary culprits involved in cyber attacks linked to the rising cases of daily strikes as experienced by the US department of health and human services overseeing the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

APT29 uses different tools and techniques, which include spear phishing and custom malware identified as ‘WellMess’ and ‘WellMail’ with the sole aim of intelligence gain based on another government’s report.

The hacking group APT29 operates as part of Russian Intelligence Services according to the assessment by UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Canadian Communication Security Establishment, the US Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency as well as the National Security Agency.

“It is completely unacceptable that Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to develop a vaccine,” British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said.

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